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Police distrust laid bare as black citizens speak at Falcon Heights meeting

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Speakers from the black community in Falcon Heights described the times they felt they'd been profiled by local cops, as they crammed into the second city council meeting held since the death of Philando Castile.

Castile was fatally shot during a traffic stop on July 6 by an officer from the St. Anthony Police Department, which has a contract with Falcon Heights to provide policing for the city.

His death has brought to light the distrust between the black community and the police, with public documents revealing Castile had been pulled over 52 times in 14 years prior to his death.

The city council eschewed its usual meeting format and instead opted for a "listening session" Wednesday evening, which The Pioneer Press reports that more than 10 people attended.

Towards the end it grew heated when council member Randy Gustafson said he still didn't know enough about what happened to correct any racial disparities in the way police handle traffic stops – which prompted several to walk out.

Another council member, Pamela Harris said it was "beyond my comprehension" that black people were being treated as described on the streets of Falcon Heights, the newspaper added, despite several white members of the audience admitting they had noticed unequal treatment of black citizens.

The Star Tribune reports that "emotions were raw from the diverse crowd," as residents shared stories of the times they were pulled over, particularly on the section of Larpenteur Avenue where Castile was stopped and killed.

Among those in attendance were Castile's mother Valerie, his uncle Clarence, and some of his cousins, the newspaper notes.

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Trust is 'seriously damaged'

One concerned citizen, Tom Walden, told the meeting that "Our trust relationship between St. Anthony Police Department and Falcon Heights residents is seriously damaged," according to KSTP, as the crowd called for the city to sever its contract with the department.

Another citizen, Kay Andrews, told the meeting her black grandsons had been stopped by police on numerous occasions for seemingly minor offenses.

"Any of them could have been the victim of this killing," she said. "When they try to tell white people what it’s like, they say, 'You must have been doing something wrong.'"

"When the cops know my son and grandson by their first name even when they don’t have a police record, other than some traffic tickets – something is wrong," she added, according to FOX 9.

But the Pioneer Press says there were expressions of hope that the city could use the incident as a "catalyst for change" that could be copied the country over, with the city's Community Engagement Commission chair Melanie Leehy saying: "We have an opportunity in Falcon Heights to get this right. I believe we will get it right."

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