Billings Police Chief Rich St. John led a press conference today (Thursday 6/4), along with Billings Mayor Bill Cole, and organizers of a protest planned for downtown this Sunday.

Chief St. John began the conference with a statement about the recent death of George Floyd in Minneapolis saying, "What took place on May 25th was exceptionally difficult to watch, outwardly unjustified, certainly unnecessary, and frankly criminal."

The Billings Police Chief also addressed what he called "Facebook chatter" regarding several groups of violent protesters converging on Billings for Sunday's protest. "There is absolutely no credible, verifiable evidence at this point that that's going to take place," St. John said.

Billings Mayor Bill Cole followed Chief St. John with a statement about Floyd's death saying the force used by former Minneapolis police officers was "excessive and avoidable." Mayor Cole also made a personal comment saying, "I speak only for myself and not for any other member of the city council, that we need to redouble our efforts to increase the racial diversity of our police force, which is already probably the most diverse police force of any major city in Montana."

Mayor Cole noted that 20 percent of Billings residents under 20 years old are non-white, and that the Billings Police force "reflects the changing face of Montana's most racially diverse city." The mayor also said the city will do everything it can to protect a citizens right to protest peacefully, and "protest against injustice is the right, and the duty of every American." Mayor Cole went on to say that the message is lost when "protest gives way to lawlessness."

The mayor also reminded residents that coronavirus is still "prowling about in our community," and then handed over several hundred face coverings that he brought for organizers of the protest.

Amber Palmer, an organizer of the event on Sunday, said they will be handing out masks and encouraging social distancing. Palmer said the protest is "for all people of color, this is to bring awareness to racism of not only black people, but also indigenous Americans as well." She also stated that you please don't come to the protest "if you have any ill intentions."

Chief St. John said they will rely "heavily" on organizers of the protest to determine who belongs at the event, and who doesn't. "We're going to have resources there monitoring and paying attention," he said.

We're here to help facilitate their peaceful protest, not police anything. And keep people safe. We're not going to let anyone hijack this rally. -Rich St. John, Billings Police Chief

When asked about a possible curfew for this Sunday, Police Chief St. John said he's not anticipating one, and that a curfew designation would have to come from the Mayor's office.

For those interested in participating in the rally there will be a Non-Violent Direct Action Training session on Saturday. Details can be found at this link

All four of the former Minneapolis police officers involved in the George Floyd case have now been charged, including the addition of a second-degree murder charge for former officer Derek Chauvin, who is seen on video pressing his knee on Floyd's neck for nearly 9 minutes.