After police killing, Rep. Cornish doubles down

At the time that Rep. Tony Cornish, head of the House of Representative’s Public Safety Committee wrote an incendiary letter in the Star Tribune saying avoiding police shootings “isn’t complicated”, we pointed out that it quite often is.

Cornish’s advice, using thinly veiled racial stereotypes, was intended to dismiss legitimate claims of disparity in the system. It included “don’t be a thug”, “don’t stay out after 2 a.m.”, “don’t flap your jaws”, “don’t keep your hands in your pocket.”

In the NewsCut post in response, I added “don’t drive with a broken tail light” because that was the excuse an officer in South Carolina used to stop a man he later executed, shooting him in the back.

Coincidentally, driving with a broken tail light was reportedly the apparent transgression that caused Philando Castile to be by the side of the road on Wednesday evening, telling police he had a legal permit to carry a gun.

People who have watched a near inexhaustible number of people of color die at the hands of police have used any number of rationales to ignore the obvious disparity in the justice system.

Philando Castile’s killing presents a challenge to them and Rep. Cornish because he appears to have behaved exactly the way he should have, with the exception of driving with a broken light on a stretch of roadway known for being a police trap for ticky-tack traffic violations. And he still ended up dead.

Cornish was unwilling to concede that maybe there’s more to a growing chasm in the country, commenting on his Facebook page instead about Gov. Dayton’s depiction of the killing in Falcon Heights.

Officer involved shooting. Governor Dayton made an idiotic statement today, saying that he thought if these people would have been white, they would be alive today. I told myself not to comment on this case as far as what happened, just for this reason. Inciting feelings one way or the other, not even knowing what the total facts are yet.

Cornish doubled down by sending an email to all Republican legislators. “Shows you how far he will go to please certain people,” he wrote, according to KARE. People of color, in other words. That’s not inciteful at all in the current climate.

Dayton’s “unguarded” comments were ill-advised for a governor, although they did guarantee that case will need to be elevated to the U.S. Justice Department, something Dayton called for earlier in the day.

People might think the killing was racially motivated, and with good reason. But that cannot be a gubernatorial conclusion based on the facts of this specific case yet. It didn’t help that social media spread the name of a Saint Anthony police officer it said killed Castile. But it identified the wrong officer. It’s a dangerous time when we act on what we think and not what we know.

But by shifting the focus to Dayton, Cornish avoided an important fact revealed in the video of the aftermath: Castile was killed while still wearing his seat belt.

Cornish is also an an ex-cop who, perhaps, could explain how someone who took his simplistic advice on how not to be shot in a traffic stop still ends up dead? How a person in a seat belt gets shot four times? With a child in the back seat.

Assuming it’s not complicated, as he earlier insisted, that shouldn’t be that hard to answer.

The answer is: He shouldn’t.

  • jon

    “don’t stay out after 2 a.m.”

    How does that rule work when you’re taken into custody by police who don’t allow you to be released until 5 a.m. because you witnessed a crime committed by an officer.
    (during which they separated you from your child and didn’t call child protective service, as I understand police procedure to be during such an incident.)

    Maybe some simple rules or procedures for the police would be a good idea for Cornish to publish in the Star Trib.

  • Sam M

    I think we can all do a little more listening and thinking and a lot less typing and shouting.

  • Al

    Well, can’t say I’m surprised. Followed him or a disciple into work a few months that ago, and… yeah. Let’s just say nuance does not seem to be his forte.

  • Angry Jonny

    Cornish is a small minded, arrogant, racist, trigger-happy bufoon. I don’t generally go running right to name calling and stereotyping, but he simply takes the cake. When a person incorporates camouflage into dress clothing, that’s usually a dead giveaway. Hopefully as his term nears its conclusion, he will be voted out and can crawl back under whatever southeastern Minnesota rock he came from.

  • John A-G

    Good connection of the dots, Bob. Thanks for caring enough to call out politicians who add to the civil unrest.

  • Jeff

    We should examine why police officers are making these stops and harassing law abiding citizens. This morning I heard that Falcon Heights chose the St. Anthony Police Department over the Roseville PD because they promised to double the ticket/fine revenue…is that really the goal we want our police to focus on? Stopping people for extremely minor violations, if you look hard enough and follow a car you could literally pull them over for ANYTHING, that shouldn’t be the focus of police or any part of their job. Police should focus on safety and respond to unusual situations that are unsafe (someone speeding 20 mph over the limit, severe swerving, violent acts) not set up situations where virtually every car would be pulled over, aka speed traps.

    What I would like to see is a move away from local government receiving fine/ticket revenue directly, instead I would rather see the state set up a fine/ticket fund and then divide that out among ALL the cities/counties so that no one city could have all that great of an impact upon raising revenue for their town/county/city. That would liberate police departments from acting as “revenue raisers” by trying to pull over every person who comes across their speed trap.

      • Jeff

        Interesting, so there is more of a split system, looks like Falcon Heights is in Ramsey county and from that article:

        In the Ramsey County cities outside of St. Paul, the city and state split it 50-50.

    • Jay T. Berken

      “divide that out among ALL the cities/counties so that no one city could have all that great of an impact upon raising revenue for their town/county/city.”

      There is LGA that is used to fund public safety that does pool money statewide. The state can put more funding in this program to allow “Police should focus on safety and respond to unusual situations that are unsafe”.

    • Al

      I don’t think that seems like a practical solution, financially, in the way it impacts counties that conduct more stops vs. fewer. Equal distribution of funds would disproportionately reward the counties that, by nature of their geography/urban centers, conduct fewer.

      (I don’t agree with conducting these types of stops at all, but that’s a different argument.)

  • PaulJ

    This is from a 2015 Speech by Comey of the FBI—
    “How can we address concerns about “use of force,” how can we address
    concerns about officer-involved shootings if we do not have a reliable
    grasp on the demographics and circumstances of those incidents? We
    simply must improve the way we collect and analyze data to see the true
    nature of what’s happening in all of our communities.”

    CW seems to be saying something different.

    • We should retire the phrase “officer-involved shootings”

      • Rob

        I wholeheartedly concur. “OIS” is a sanitized, Orwellian term. When a cop shoots someone, justified or not, it’s a police shooting, period. Any and all official references should so state, and any media coverage of the incident should refer to it the same way.

  • Mike Worcester

    Yesterday I commented to some of my FB pals to go back and re-read Rep. Cornish’s letter, than ask themselves what, if anything, Philando Castile did that was counter to the comments of that letter. Guess what? It was nothing. He did nothing. And yet the result was?

    In regards to Governor Dayton’s comments, my only take on it is that they were borne of frustration. Ill-advised? Sure. But definitely (in my estimation) an expression of frustration.

    • lindblomeagles

      I disagree. Governor Dayton was 10,000% correct. That shooting should never have happened. EVER! And every cop in the Twin Cities area SHOULD HAVE LEARNED SOMETHING FROM JAMAR CLARK. Dayton is correct when he says there is racism in the police force. WE ARE WRONG FOR ASSUMING RACISM IS ONLY AN OLD WHITE GUY YELLING EXPLETIVES TO BLACK PEOPLE IN THEIR FACE OR BEHIND THEIR BACK. Racism IS the belief Black men are dangerous all the time, even in a routine, low priority traffic stop. Our society keeps excusing that assumption, while accepting the insulting stereotype that white men are not dangerous, that they follow the rules, that they are polite, that their just having a bad day. Philando Castile was Black. He was not dangerous. He followed the rules. He was polite. He was just having a bad day. HE WAS SHOT ANYWAY. Thank you Governor Dayton for saying what needed to be said.

      • We know what racism is. But an assumption is not a fact . A fact is a fact. When you ask a governor a question at incendiary times like this, what you’re looking for are facts.

        Declarations based on assumptions may end up being right. But you kind of want to have things nailed down before you risk making a bad situation even worse.

        That doesn’t please people; I get that. As indicated the national data is pretty clear. But you still need good data to provide a good answer on a particular .

        That’s difficult to do in our current culture and communication ability (or lack of same). We want confirmation of what we believe to be true and we want it right now.

        • I get where Dayton is coming from. He’s saying, “it’s racism; prove it”s not.” It’s an intriguing thing.

          • Timothy Richardson

            You hit on a point Bob Collins ,guilty of racism until proven innocent is the problem.

          • RichardOwens

            Have you seen this Business Insider piece about Philandro?

            “When Philando Castile saw the flashing lights in his rearview mirror, it wasn’t unusual. He had been pulled
            over at least 52 times in recent years in and around the Twin Cities and given citations for minor offenses including speeding, driving without a muffler and not wearing a seat belt.

            He was assessed at least $6,588 in fines and fees, although more than half of the total 86 violations were dismissed, court records show….”


            There is strong yet circumstantial evidence that something about his driving was causing him to be stopped more frequently. He did wear dreadlocks- could that be it? Driving old cars has its own tell-tale message, but that can’t be it, can it?

            He was gentle and patient with the little children and soft-spoken, say his co-workers. The kids loved him. He worked since he was 18 and had no record of crime.

            I think the young man was hampered in his movements by his RACE. But of course others can draw different conclusions. I think the Governor was right- it wouldn’t happen like this to a White person. We won’t ever know that either.

            It looks (to me) like profiling to have this many stops.

            A 2001 study concluded, “The analysis found the pattern was more pronounced in suburban areas. In Fridley, New Hope, Plymouth, Sauk Rapids and Savage combined, blacks were stopped about 310 percent more often than expected. “

        • lindblomeagles

          Bob, the fact is an innocent, white person legally carrying a hand gun has not been gunned down in front of his family in Minnesota while peacefully retrieving his license during a routine traffic stop. That is exactly what Governor Dayton was talking about.

          • I don’t think what the governor is talking about is in dispute.

      • Mike Worcester

        Please don’t misunderstand my thought here — I am quite glad Gov. Dayton said what he did. It needed to be said. I still say that his words were born of frustration — frustration from seeing injustice and inequality. But they were also words that perhaps many of my fellow middle-aged white dudes need to hear.

        Additionally, as a public figure, his statements can be taken and twisted in many ways. Not all of them are pretty. This one rolled across my FB news feed earlier today. 🙁

        • lindblomeagles

          I did misunderstand what you were saying. I am sorry and appreciate your clarification. To reiterate, the police restrain their impulses when they stop white people. Numerous research regarding racial profiling has already proven that. Jamar Clark’s death should have motivated area police departments to review their policing. St Anthony Chief of Police alluded to the fact they didn’t when he said St Anthony Police had not had a police shooting in more than 30 years. He was as shocked about the shooting as we were. How could he assume that would never happen in his unit when a police shooting occurred in neighboring Minneapolis?

  • Badboy35

    As an ex cop, he is not objective. In fact he is part of the problem, not a problem solver. Had to politicize this didn’t he.

    • joetron2030

      Well, he is a politician with a political career to care and feed.

      • Badboy35

        thats the problem. He should be focused on solutions, not pandering to his base.

        • joetron2030

          I agree completely. He’s shown himself to be a self-serving politician of the first order.

  • William Hunter Duncan

    Cornish’s attitude is, submit and you won’t have any problem. Except submitting without question to people who expect you to submit and nothing else often means you are going to get beat down one way or another. State violence too is as American as apple pie, and Cornish is never going to question State violence as long as he is on the giving and not the receiving end of it.

  • Gary F

    We don’t know what OFFICIALLY happened BEFORE the Castile shooting. We only have two adult eyewitnesses to the verbal exchange, and one, the officer, is not talking. We don’t OFFICIALLY know if he had a valid permit to carry.

    I’m fully waiting for the investigation on this one. Remember, “he has a carry permit” could be the next “hands up don’t shoot” and “he was handcuffed”, both proven wrong. Lots of emotion flying around. Many people not letting a crisis go to waste.

    Being a owner of a carry permit, I really want to see the details of the exchange between Castile and the officer. This scares me that a routine stop had to come to this if he was legally carrying.

    Getting pulled over for a tail light out at that time of night is common if you are black or white. That’s how cops catch drunk drivers.

    • Laurie K.

      KARE11 is reporting that it has been confirmed that Mr. Castile did have a valid permit to carry issued by Hennepin County. There were actually 3 adults present, 2 officers and Ms. Reynolds. Let’s not perpetuate mis-information including your comment (which is not backed by anything other than your opinion) that it is common to get pulled over at 9 p.m. on a Wednesday regardless of your race for a broken tail light because the cops want to conduct a DWI investigation. As you said, let’s wait for all the facts.

    • Dan

      “We don’t OFFICIALLY know if he had a valid permit to carry”

      Is it even legal for the police (or any other official) to give out that information? I believe they cannot say whether a gun used in a shooting was permitted or not. Not sure if the same applies in this case, I would guess so.

      • By law, law enforcement can only reveal carry permit data to the Legislature. But it’s one of those laws that’s observed only when convenient.

        We STILL don’t know, as far as I know, whether John Engeldinger had a permit for his Glock in his murderous 2012 Minneapolis rampage.

    • Postal Customer

      A broken taillight alone is not probable cause for drunken driving.

      • It goes back to the Sonia Sotomayor dissent I published a few weeks ago (and which I recommended at the time that newspaper editors publish as an op-ed and i’m not familiar with a single one that did).

        The law is as a an excuse for a wider search. The tail light provides a legal excuse to stop someone on the hope that there’ll be a bigger payoff in the subsequent discovery.

        This is what made that decision so unbelievable in that it seemed to pave the way for not needing reasons to stop people since the evidence discovered can STILL be used.

        (Edit to add) I learned yesterday from a producer here ( a person of color) that she was stopped by Mpls police after she met with a group of people in N. Mpls. They wanted to know what she was doing in the neighborhood and never said why they stopped her. She was ordered out of the car, and had to do the spread eagle search.

        We can’t imagine what a day in the life of a person of color is really like. But that doesn’t stop us .

        • BJ

          I was just thinking about this again. Crazy to think how this will change police work.

          • Really, one of the worst Supreme Court decisions. It should have gotten MUCH more attention than it did.

        • Laurie K.

          Way before the Strieff decision law enforcement in Minnesota has been allowed to use a minor traffic violation in order to stop a vehicle. In order to expand a traffic stop beyond its original purpose, the officer must have “reasonable, articulable suspicion” of other criminal activity. So, an officer legally stops a vehicle for a minor traffic violation [i.e., a broken tail light], if the officer approaches and sees indicia of drinking [e.g., watery eyes, smell of alcohol, or my personal favorite, being “slow to respond”], they’ve got a reason to expand the stop. Strieff is still very concerning, but not because it allows for an expansion of a minor traffic stop into a more serious investigation, but because it allows law enforcement to benefit from an illegal stop.

          • Right. That’s pretty much what I said. There’s nothing to discourage illegal stops now.

          • Laurie K.

            Your words: “The law is as a an excuse for a wider search”. The Strieff case can be used to uphold the fruits of an illegal stop or one based on nothing more than a hunch, which I think is what you are trying to get at. Right now though, we do not know whether Mr. Castillo’s tail light was actually broken. Regardless, you’re right, the point is Strieff can be used to uphold a warrantless search regardless of the legality of the stop and that should be very concerning to us.

        • Dan

          “and never said why they stopped her”

          Check out the Frontline episode “policing the police” if you haven’t yet, shows a perspective on Newark, NJ.

      • Gary F

        It’s used all the time after midnight.

    • crystals

      To address one part of your comment, the Star Tribune is reporting (as of this afternoon) that Castile indeed had a valid permit to carry.

      I’ll argue we’ll never know what OFFICIALLY happened BEFORE the shooting – there will be different stories. Some of us will believe one version, some of us another. Regardless, I will always find it difficult to understand how a routine traffic stop, where a man was inside the car with his seat belt and a child in the backseat, should have ever – EVER – ended like this.

  • Dan

    “It didn’t help that social media spread the name of a Saint Anthony police officer it said killed Castile.”

    An organizer from Black Lives Matter St Paul and the TC Coalition for Justice 4 Jamar spread that false information at the press conference in front of the governor’s mansion, livestreamed by the Strib.

  • Jeff

    Yes, but even that sort of stop can be predatory. My wife and I were travelling down a road late at night (3 am) and she had 1 drink at 8 pm that evening then stopped drinking, I had a few beers so I wasn’t driving she was. This was probably one of the coldest nights in a long time, it was -30 degrees out that evening. So we come to a stop light and the warning (flashing yellow) signs started to flash as were passing by them, so my wife tapped the brakes to make sure there was no black ice before fully applying the brake. Then we proceeded forward when the light turned green, as we accelerated a car came out of no where and accelerated from behind us at 80-90 mph (the speed limit on this road was 55 mph). My wife thought it might have been a drunk driver about to careen into us from behind so she accelerated 5 mph over the limit and got into the left lane to avoid a potential accident…yep, that’s when the lights came on, it was a cop not a drunk driver. He said he pulled her over for “going 5 mph over the limit” which of course he caused to happen with his extremely high rate of closure. Then he proceeded to ask her questions about her drinking tonight, she was honest and said she had 1 drink about 6 or 7 hours earlier, he said “Yeah, right”. Then he said since it was so cold he was just going to give her the breathalyzer in the car and not go through the roadside tests, of course she blew 0.000…then he came back with a ticket for out of date tabs (which she forgot about, they were overdue by a month or two). I’m still not sure how a cop can demand a breathalyzer and be so far off base that the person blows a 0.000, I feel like the training or individual has failed if that happens and there should be some sort of a inverse fine that should happen for the citizen to be paid by the police department for wasting the time of a citizen when the officer’s assumptions were flat out wrong.

  • Brian Simon

    Do we even know whether the taillight was defective? A friend posted about getting pulled over for a “broken tail light” that wasn’t broken. They got a “fix it” ticket for it. Oh yeah, the driver was black. Another time they got pulled over for “excessive tint,” but no ticket for that either. Same driver. If, as some below have posted, we need to wait for the facts, perhaps we ought to question all the “facts” reported in this case.

    • Postal Customer

      If your police force is regularly pulling over motorists with taillight issues, one or more of these must be true

      1. your town is relatively crime-free
      2. your force is too large
      3. your force is not focusing on real crimes
      4. your force has implemented an ILLEGAL quota
      5. your force is attempting to generate needed revenue, which could be covered by reducing the police force that is obviously too large since you have resources to cite motorists with taillight issues

      Whatever the reason(s), they need to figure it out.

      • Al

        It’s a key argument of many advocating for police reform: Broken windows policing isn’t working.

    • The “broken” tail light is a poor description for the law, which actually is addressed in five different statutes (at least). Broken doesn’t mean “not working.” Your brake light can be working fine. If it is even a ray of white light coming out of a cracked lens, it’s a violation under the statute. If it has red tape holding it together, that’s a violation.

      It is a very wide-ranging “violation” that could encompasss manyd ifferent states.

      • The light is obviously working. It’s hard to tell, but there might have been some tape over the top of the right light. That would be a “violation”.

  • Kurt O

    What about the poor little girl who had to watch all of this?

  • Dan

    Maybe that’s what Bob meant by “observed only when convenient”, here’s a story with a quote from a Brooklyn Park Deputy Police Chief about the permit:

  • Michael Nordby

    Please Help elect Josh Haseman to replace Mr. Cornish in the house!

  • Mark Gruben

    4:57 pm: In a message he’s about to post on Facebook, Tony Cornish calls Mark Dayton’s opinion “idiotic” concerning the police shooting in Falcon Heights.

    4:58 pm: In the very next line of that post, Tony Cornish writes, “I told myself not to comment on this case as far as what happened, just for this reason. Inciting feelings one way or the other, not even knowing what the total facts are yet.”

    4:59 pm: Smugly, Tony reviews his post, He slapped the Governor, then slapped himself for having slapped the Governor, saying he shouldn’t comment on it, until all the facts were in. You know….like Dayton had just done? Just so idiotic of him! But the post is ready now, so he hits “Post.”

    5:17 pm: Tony has just finished writing a nasty little email to his GOP House colleagues, and ending with yet ANOTHER slap – this one at the Governor AND the African-American community – “Shows how far he will go to please certain people.” Hmmm. Just 18 minutes ago, you said you wouldn’t do that. But you just did it again, except this time it was just for your colleagues. To please THEM. To think otherwise would be idiotic.

    Shows how far he will go to please certain people. And clearly, Tony thinks those certain people are idiots.

  • Mark Gruben

    Some in Law Enforcement just do whatever the hell they feel like doing, whether to test people’s reactions, or just for the hell of it, it seems. I came to a stop sign at a T-intersection one Tuesday night around 11 pm, and long before I got there and turned, a single car had gone by, headed north – I just had a hunch it was a Trooper, and it was. I had signaled and made my full stop, and had turned southbound, and in the rear-view mirror at least a mile away, I could see that he had made a U-turn, and chased me down at a high rate of speed. He didn’t pull me over, but he did continue to tail me for the next 30 minutes, including a 15 minute gas stop I made in the next town, just to see if he’d stop there also. And he did, too, but not a word. No, I had not been drinking and yes, everything was in order and working. I never did know why he’d done that, but it scared me silly, and – damn right I felt violated. And still do.