St. Paul police released body camera footage Tuesday of a traffic stop of Rep. John Thompson earlier this month, during which the state legislator — who has been pushing at the Capitol to end such low-level stops — told the officer that he was pulled over for “driving while Black.”
The Democrat, who represents part of St. Paul’s East Side, has faced sharp scrutiny related to the traffic stop on July 4 and the subsequent discovery that he has had a Wisconsin driver’s license for years.
In the 16-minute body camera video, an officer pulled Thompson over and asked him why he was in such a hurry. Thompson said he didn’t think he was driving fast, adding that he’s a state representative in the district.
“With a Wisconsin license?” the officer asked.
“Yes, with a Wisconsin license. I’m state Representative John Thompson,” he replied.
After asking for Thompson’s license and proof of insurance, the officer takes the license to his squad car. He returns to Thompson’s car and tells him he’s “suspended in Minnesota.” Thompson replies, “no,” but the officer tells him that’s what his computer said.
Thompson asked why he was pulled over, and the officer said it was because he didn’t have a front license plate and “the way you took off.”
“I’m too old to run from the police, you profiled me because you looked me dead in the face and I got a ticket for driving while Black,” Thompson replied. “You pulled me over because you saw a Black face in this car, brother, and there’s no way in hell that I’m taking off with you behind me.”
The officer denied profiling Thompson.
“What you’re doing is wrong to Black men, and you need to stop that. Thank you so much but this ticket means nothing to me,” Thompson said shortly before driving away.
Thompson got involved in politics after police fatally shot his friend Philando Castile in Falcon Heights five years ago during a traffic stop. He took office this year aiming to address policing and systemic racism. He and other House Democrats made a failed attempt this session to end traffic stops for low-level traffic or equipment violations, which he said disproportionately target people who are not white.
However, Thompson’s response to his traffic stop has drawn criticism from politicians on both sides of the aisle, including Minnesota DFL Party Chairman Ken Martin, who said he was “disappointed” by Thompson’s actions, and that no one is above the law.
The situation escalated Tuesday, as the Minnesota Police and Peace Officers Association requested that the Wisconsin attorney general investigate Thompson for repeatedly getting a Wisconsin driver’s license while living in Minnesota, saying he “defrauded Wisconsin.” And Republican Sen. Mary Kiffmeyer asked Secretary of State Steve Simon to explain his process for verifying Thompson’s residency when he was running for office last year.
“Minnesotans have a right to know what the Secretary of State did to determine Representative Thompson was eligible to seek office in House District 67A,” Kiffmeyer said in a statement. “The public normally is able to view candidate filings to hold them accountable for living where they are running. In the absence of a public filing, it’s important to know what, if any steps, the Secretary of State took to ensure a candidate using narrow privacy protections actually lived in the district they are required to live in.”
Meanwhile, a jury trial began Tuesday over a 2019 clash between Thompson and police, related to an incident when he was trying to visit a family friend in the hospital. Thompson faces a charge of obstructing the legal process after he got in an argument with law enforcement over their treatment of the family and friends of a patient at North Memorial Health Hospital, according to court documents. When approached for comment at the courthouse Tuesday, Thompson, who was on the phone, waved away a Star Tribune reporter.
“He did nothing to obstruct the police officers. He was arguing with them about how they were treating people there,” Thompson’s attorney Jordan Kushner said, noting that there was “a large group of African American visitors who were concerned about a loved one.”
He said Thompson and others at the hospital believe they were deemed “a threat to the security of the hospital” because they were African American. Kushner said Thompson speaks up about what is happening, and while he’s not always the most careful about it, he is acting within his rights.
“He encounters a lot of hostility, I think, because he’s a working-class Black man … who doesn’t hesitate to speak up against law enforcement abuse,” Kushner said.
Staff writer Alex Chhith contributed to this report.
Jessie Van Berkel • 651-925-5044
©2021 StarTribune. Visit startribune.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
This content is published through a licensing agreement with Acquire Media using its NewsEdge technology.