The four dozen people gathered outside the Mall of America in Bloomington late Wednesday afternoon to protest the “Bulletproof” police training course being held inside had three major demands:
That law enforcement agencies stop sending their officers to the training, that the mall stop sponsoring the training, and that the Minnesota Board of Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) stop granting continuing education credits for the two-day course.
The training, formerly called Bulletproof Warrior, “fosters a reckless and violent mentality in police,” said Michelle Gross, president of Communities United Against Police Brutality. “We can no longer take a hands-off approach.”
Former St. Anthony police officer Jeronimo Yanez, who shot and killed Philando Castile in July 2016 after a traffic stop in Falcon Heights, had taken Bulletproof Warrior training in 2014.
Since the Castile shooting and subsequent trial that acquitted Yanez, the training has come under scrutiny by many police departments around the country — including several in the Twin Cities.
Minneapolis police and the Ramsey County Sheriff’s Office had planned to send officers to the training held Wednesday and Thursday but reversed their decision, saying the course does not align with their values of community trust.
Rachel Rivard, a leader of the coalition that organized the rally and one of about a dozen people to speak, quoted retired Lt. Col. Dave Grossman, one of the main trainers of the course, saying he tells participants, “There are people who wake up each morning determined to send you and your family home in a box.”
Rivard said Grossman “believes we are at war here in our own land. He promotes fear.”
Grossman could not be reached for comment Wednesday night.
Castile’s mother, Valerie Castile, nursing an injured leg, showed up at the rally, saying, “That man with that same training murdered my son.
“It went from zero to 1,000 with his Bulletproof Warrior training,” she said. “Zero to a murder. Nobody is exempt. It could be you, you, you, your father, your grandmother. Nobody is safe with that type of training.”
John Thompson, who became an activist when his friend Philando was killed, got on his knees with his hands in the air before the group.
“My hands are in the air while they’re doing this training and my brothers and sisters are still dying, right here in these streets,” he said.
Standing again, he said, “I want you to know I was just in St. Louis [where Philando is buried]. Philando told me to tell you all he’s going to be all right. We all gonna be all right.”