Alex Mingus' message when St. Paul Police honored him: Police don't keep us safe, 'We keep us safe'

If there is one thing that the supporters of Alex Mingus and the St. Paul Police Department agree on, it’s that he’s a hero. 

But when St. Paul Interim Police Chief Jeremy Ellison presented Mingus with a Chief’s Medal for Valor last Thursday for his role in helping to save the life of a shooting victim in October of last year, Mingus had a message that went well beyond a customary thank you — and that message has since reached millions of people across the world. 

You may have seen the video of his speech, filmed by On Site Public Media, which had over 6 million views on Twitter as of Tuesday afternoon. 

"I do appreciate the recognition. But I won't keep this stuff. This will go to my mom. And this can't go to my son," Mingus said, pointing to the medal around his neck. "Because I'm very uncomfortable being here with you guys. I do not rock with the police. But I appreciate you giving me the opportunity to say these things. And I just want folks to know that they don't keep us safe. We keep us safe. Riots work. Thank you."

The shooting 

His frustration stemmed in part from what happened that day, Friday, Oct. 8, 2021. 

That morning, he was driving his wife to work when he heard gunshots and saw a red van pull in front of him, driving errantly, Mingus told FOX 9. The van pulled over, and Mingus saw a man stumble out. He was bleeding profusely from a gunshot wound to his left wrist. 

Mingus, who works with students with disabilities as a paraprofessional at a Minneapolis charter school, knew some first aid from his training as a firearms instructor, so he stopped to help. He tried to calm the man as he used a towel and a T-shirt to apply what he called a "poor man’s tourniquet." Doctors would later tell police that a bullet had severed an artery in the man’s wrist and that without Mingus' intervention, he would have died there on the road.

As Mingus struggled to contain the bleeding, he saw St. Paul Police squad cars approaching. He worried his makeshift tourniquet wasn’t enough, and desperate for help, he went to the side of the road and tried to flag them down. Nine squad cars passed. None stopped.

He recalled that moment as he accepted the award. 

"That day, nine of your squad cars raced past us As I was flagging them down… and that was a potential of 18 people. Eighteen people could have stopped to help preserve life. But 18 people chose to go to a potential threat," he said. 

Eventually, an ambulance came and took the man to the hospital. He survived. 

Police arrested the suspect, Kirk Warren Jones, after a standoff. Court records indicate Jones has a long criminal record and a history of mental health issues. He told police he didn’t know the victim and had shot him in the parking lot of a nearby gas station, according to the incident report. 

Last month, a judge declared Jones unfit to stand trial, and he has since been committed to a mental institution. 

Police response 

St. Paul Police issued the following statement following Mingus’ speech. 

"The St. Paul Police Department was honored to recognize the lifesaving work of Alex Mingus that day. We are happy that the victim survived and thankful that Mr. Mingus was there to make a difference for him.

"Shooting scenes can be very chaotic. As officers respond to these calls, critical information comes at them quickly and they are focused on preventing the suspect from returning or harming more people while also securing the scene for Saint Paul Fire paramedics to come in and treat the victim. We are happy that the suspect was quickly apprehended, charged, and held accountable for this violent act. Both of these results are the best outcomes we could have hoped for following such a tragic incident and Mr. Mingus played a crucial role in that. Recognizing his actions that day is important for our community and our ongoing mission of developing trust and delivering respect."

Diving deeper: Why Mingus doesn’t trust police 

Mingus’ frustration with the police goes beyond that fall day. When asked him why he fears law enforcement, Mingus listed the names of Black people killed by police. "George Floyd, Tamir Rice, Amir Locke, Elijah McClain. Daunte Wright. The list goes on and on," he said. 

He also points to traumatic experiences he had with police as a youth — he says he was once handcuffed to a bus as a teenager because he fit the description of a suspect and that when he was 21, a state trooper put a gun to his head during a traffic stop. 

"I've worked and I've had some regular guy interactions (with police) that weren't negative, but in their professional capacity dealing with them. I've never had a positive experience," he said. 

Police departments across the country have long struggled with building trust in communities of color, particularly among young people, an issue the murder of George Floyd only exasperated. 

St. Paul Police point to the relatively high rate at which their detectives have solved homicides as one indication of their efforts to build better community relations. Their clearance rate by year:

  • 2020- 92%
  • 2021- 89%
  • 2022- 82% as of Oct. 10

In comparison, Minneapolis Police had a clearance rate of 38% in 2020. 

"We believe our homicide clearance rate is a unique indicator of not only excellent work by our investigators but a direct result of our relationship with the St. Paul community. We are solving crime and keeping St. Paul safe together, with our community," St. Paul Police spokesperson Mike Ernster told FOX 9. 

On ‘riots work’ and safety beyond policing 

Mingus says he understands the need for investigative law enforcement personnel and the need to hold people accountable for crimes, but he avoids calling the police personally. He thinks public funds should be redirected from beat cops to social programs for youth, from pre-natal care to after-school programs.

"If we take money from the police and put money into those things over time, these kids who we are so much of us are afraid of, their their their brains would be able to develop in a healthy way so that they have emotional regulation… And by the time they're teenagers, we won't need as many police because we'll have some stable, more stable human beings around," he said. 

On his "riots work" comment, Mingus said he didn’t want his views to be misconstrued. 

"Any movement forward in this country has been done by force or with some force. And I am not advocating for anyone to burn a mom-and-pop shop...I'm saying that if your voice is not being heard, make some noise, man. Stand up," he said. 

When asked if the push in both Minneapolis and St. Paul to invest in violence prevention programs was indicative of the impact of the protests following Floyd’s murder, Mingus said he thinks that effort has only been a partial success. 

"​​Yes, because there are some things, some good things happening in the community around training, harm reduction, things like that. No, because there are people who are just money grabbing and saying that they're doing a thing," he said. 

Since the video of his speech went viral, he said he's received some negative comments but "overwhelmingly positive" feedback, with messages in his inbox from places as far away as Australia and Japan. 

"I could use a massage because my arm hurts from being on the phone so much and scrolling and responding," he joked. "I'm just very grateful."