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St. Paul mayor, police chief, activist talk protests with President Obama

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A delegation from St. Paul met with President Obama, White House staff and civil rights leaders from across the country to discuss ways to address the nation's volatile policing situation.

St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman and police chief Todd Axtell were in attendance at the roundtable discussion in Washington D.C., as was Black Lives Matter Minnesota representative Mica Grimm.

It follows the fatal shooting by police of Philando Castile last week, which alongside another killing in Baton Rouge has sparked nationwide protests, tensions over which rose when five Dallas police officers were killed during a demonstration last Friday.

The main subject of the roundtable, which was attended by Attorney General Loretta Lynch and civil rights leader Rev. Al Sharpton, was how to prevent such shootings and avoid the subsequent protests.

Speaking to Minnesota media after the meeting, Coleman said he has taken two key points from it: ensuring every police department in the country gets the right training, and holding officers who have abused the law accountable.

On the latter point, Coleman said the city's police department has shown it can do this, such as in the case of Jeff Rothecker, who left the department after making posts on Facebook detailing how a civilian could get away with running over protesters.

On training, he said: "There are 18,000 police departments in the country, 75 percent of which have fewer than 25 officers, we need to make sure every one of these has the same level of training and racial equality training that St. Paul has."

"The main takeaway for me is that we have to have local conversations in some fashion, where elected officials, community leaders, police chiefs and civil rights leaders have these kind of roundtables."

Police chief's empathy for protesters

Although Castile was killed in Falcon Heights by a St. Anthony police officer, St. Paul has been the location for much of the subsequent protests by Black Lives Matter and other civil rights groups, which spiked on Saturday as police and demonstrators clashed during the I-94 shutdown.

Axtell, who admitted "our entire [police] community is scared" following the events of the past week, said police departments would benefit from taking on more new officers from the ethnic backgrounds they serve – something he says his department is actively trying to do.

But he was also enlightened by the presence of civil rights leaders and what they had to say about the reasons why people protest following police shootings.

"I have met with Black Lives Matter extensively in the past several years and the level of concern I heard today are the same as back home." he said. "We need to give people the time and ability to express their grief.

"Sometimes in law enforcement we don't understand when there's a non-violent protest sometimes this environment is meant to be a part of the grieving process for the people most impacted by some of the occurrences going on in our country.

"These are grieving opportunities for community members to come together."

BringMeTheNews has reached out to Mica Grimm for her thoughts on the day's events.

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