St Paul couple charged in carjacking crime spree
It didn’t take long into 2022 to see that serious crime in the Twin Cities isn’t relenting. In early January, Kashwan Wertman, 18, and Nautica Argue, 19, terrorized 27 vehicle…
State and Twin Cities leaders dither while vulnerable residents live in fear and increasing danger.
Over a year after the intersection at East 38th Street and Chicago Avenue was blocked off from traffic, creating a makeshift autonomous zone in the heart of Minneapolis, Mayor Jacob Frey ordered city crews to dismantle the barriers. The area has become notorious for nightly shootings and lawlessness that imprisoned the people who live and work there. But just hours after the barriers came down at the hands of city crews, the “gatekeepers” of George Floyd Square erected new ones, ignoring the toothless warnings of the mayor. Less than one week later, city crews repeated the effort. Again, the barriers were re-erected. And the mayor could only claim this is part of a “three-phase reopening” plan.
The scene at 38th and Chicago is a small part of the larger dystopian wasteland that Minneapolis is quickly becoming. Residents and business owners are subject to nightly terror. None of the destructiveness comes at the hands of police or as a manifestation of systemic racism in law enforcement, as many radical activists like to claim. It’s the consequence of too few police on the streets, of politicians defending criminals instead of victims, and of unconditioned vilification of the law enforcement officers who pledge to protect the communities they serve.
On May 30, just over one year after George Floyd died on the street outside Cup Foods in Minneapolis, hundreds of disgruntled citizens gathered to demand justice and an end to the violence. This wasn’t a demonstration against the police. It was a call for peace in a city ravaged by bloodshed. Record-high carjackings and violent assaults, more illegal firearms on the streets, innocent children brutally gunned down, road racing killing innocent bystanders: The criminals now control the streets of Minneapolis, and spineless, ineffectual political leaders will not stop them.
The untenable violence destroying the Twin Cities is the result of a failure of civic leaders to protect their citizens and support our law enforcement. And it’s only going to get worse.
It has been a stunning fall for a metro area that was once named by Forbes Magazine as America’s Safest City. Now, in the midst of its self-destruction, three children under the age of 10 were shot within weeks of each other. Two — 9-year-old Trinity Ottoson-Smith and 6-year-old Aniya Allen — died from their injuries. Their deaths symbolize the chaotic violence in many urban neighborhoods with a cycle of lawlessness and hopelessness from which they might not return. Trinity was at a birthday party, jumping on a trampoline. Aniya was eating a Happy Meal in the backseat of her mother’s car. Aniya’s grandfather, longtime community activist K.G. Wilson, says defunding the police is “the craziest thing I’ve ever heard…if I was a criminal, I would support it. I would love it.” He told the Daily Mail on May 27, “We are here to tell you today that we need police. We need the sheriff…That’s why I got one murdered grandchild and I’m at the hospital right now for two families of two children who’ve been shot.”
People from across the metro area voice concern about the downward trajectory of Minneapolis. Diane, a Bloomington resident, used to frequent Hennepin Theater District restaurants. She doubts that she’ll ever return. “Why would I go downtown now?” she says, declining to provide her last name because of cancel culture as much as safety issues. “A night out is supposed to be a fun experience, but how much fun is it to worry about getting back to your car safely or what might be going on in the street outside the restaurant?”
A June Thinking Minnesota Poll showed that only four percent of respondents visited Minneapolis more frequently over the past year, while 58 percent did so less often. This majority likely won’t change this habit anytime soon, as 54 percent of Minnesotans believe Minneapolis won’t feel safe again for at least a year or two, while 19 percent say the city will never be safe enough again for them.
The violence shows no signs of slowing down. A shooting outside a downtown nightclub left two people dead and eight injured. Charlie Johnson, a mechanical engineering student at the University of St. Thomas, died just hours before he was scheduled to walk the stage at his graduation ceremony. The Memorial Day weekend more closely resembled the battlefields of soldiers we traditionally honor. From Saturday night into Sunday, seven people were shot, caught in the crossfire of gang-related disputes. One man died of his injuries at North Memorial Medical Center. With a police force reduced by nearly 300 officers from plunging morale, overwhelming stress and lack of political support, the city is surrendering its civility.
Police strain to keep up with the chaos. They continue to put their lives on the line while being accused of wholesale racism. Civic leaders repeatedly accuse them of having nefarious motivations, with no means of defending themselves. No one is surprised the police force is depleted. Many took early retirement; others are on leave to cope with traumatic stress and other mental health issues. More quit, deciding the price of putting their lives on the line to keep criminals off the street, only to see the courts release them from jail in the following days, was not worth the risk. Brian Peters, Executive Director of the Minnesota Police and Peace Officers Association, explains that Minneapolis and St. Paul have already been defunding by failing to support a police force unable to keep up with the size of its population, outside of high-priority 911 calls. “We see departments with decreasing morale, with city leaders demonizing the very people that seek to serve and protect its citizens. Clearly defunding is not the answer to our crime waves. It’s exactly the opposite. We need more law enforcement officers, and certainly not less.”
This is not a manufactured crisis, nor one of sensationalized stories. The statistics are staggering. According to a May 20 meeting with local leaders, year-to-date homicides in 2021 have more than doubled compared to 2020. The police department has seized 100 fewer guns this year — approximately 300 total — compared to last year. Gun thefts from vehicles are up more than 100 percent. The atrophied police department simply lacks the resources to chase them down. As a result, street criminals use these weapons to take aim at each other, with horrific consequences. The Minneapolis Police Dashboard reveals that violent crimes have increased from 1,696 during the first five months of last year to 1,940 through the same period this year. Homicides have increased from 18 to a stunning 35, putting the city on a trajectory that could well surpass the record-setting number of 97 in 1995, when national media regularly referred to the city as “Murderapolis.”
By contrast, the city experienced just 11 homicides during this same period in 2019. The 35 homicides through May 31 represent a 94 percent increase from 2020, and a two-year increase of 218 percent from 2019’s total of 11 homicides. Robberies in the city are up 31.4 percent over last year, and 82.2 percent over 2019. Aggravated assaults number 1,034 so far this year, an 8.5 percent increase over 2020 and an 18.7 percent increase over 2019.
Bad for business
But numbers on a page can’t fully convey the human toll. Brian Ingram, the owner of multiple restaurants in St. Paul, including The Gnome and Hope Breakfast Bar, survived the government-imposed COVID shutdowns only to face a more perilous threat: The repeated burglaries and property damage occurring at his businesses on a weekly basis. Mr. Ingram spent thousands of dollars on security cameras and equipment. They just don’t do any good when perpetrators of these crimes are back on the streets — sometimes the very next day. With the amount of money spent on the damage to doors and windows from break-ins, he says, “it’s almost better to just leave the doors unlocked.”
Ingram is a life-long restaurateur who’s lived in New York City and Chicago. He never dreamed the Twin Cities would become such a crime-ridden metropolis. “This is home. I have my family here, raised my kids here. But things look pretty hopeless,” he continues. He was walking from his home to one of his establishments and gunshots rang out about 10 feet from him. It was three o’clock in the afternoon. He recounted his pleas to Mayor Melvin Carter, which seems to be a waste of time. “He’s useless in terms of stopping crime. He repeats his press quotes but he hasn’t a care in the world for people like me or my fellow business owners.”
People used to flee Chicago and New York for the safety and security of Minneapolis and St. Paul. Today it isn’t safe to ride the Metro Transit buses, says Ben Anderson, a lifelong St. Paul resident who recently quit his job in Bloomington to work closer to home. “I feel like a sitting duck at my transfers and I see the same people night after night doing drugs, flashing weapons.”
That isn’t deterring the progressive left from pushing policies it considers reform or “reimagining,” an exercise in futility that has been tried — and led to spectacular failures in cities such as Baltimore and Ferguson, Missouri. The Twin Cities area now faces a choice: Respond to the needs and concerns of its residents living with the threat of violence and lawlessness, or acquiesce to civic leaders entrenched in an ideology that wants to gut our police forces, leaving communities vulnerable to escalating violence and perpetual fear.
Police support (or lack thereof)
The fear and violence that paralyze our cities are caused by the utter failure of our city leaders to support the police departments that want to restore peace and order to our streets. Leaders such as Walz, Frey and Carter would rather poison the relationship between the community and law enforcement by making police the enemy, rather than the criminals who target innocent children. They would rather give the impression of action by speaking in platitudes and slogans against the police — the very people trying to build trust in communities already grossly underserved by those very politicians. Walz, Frey and Carter are setting the stage for a reckless trend of defunding and demoralizing the only people who each and every day stand between us and criminals who wish to do us harm.
When activist groups and national organizations act in their own self-interests instead of those of the people who actually live, work and raise families in broken communities, “reforms” usually reflect the political agenda of such organizations and activists. Adding layers of bureaucratic red-tape and unresponsiveness doesn’t solve problems. It compounds them in ways that deepen the divide between civic leaders, police and the community. We only need to look to Baltimore, in which a federal consent decree, implemented in 2017 and used as a layer of oversight on BPD policies and operations, led to the city’s second-highest number of homicides (348) in 2019 while the population actually decreased. Total crime in Baltimore is 148 percent above the national average, with property crime 104 percent above the national average. Ferguson has seen similarly dire results in its attempts at reforms. Unfortunately, a city that mirrored the riots and explosive violence in Minneapolis after George Floyd’s death, as happened in the aftermath of Michael Brown’s death, serves as a premonition to unhealed racial animosity, a depleted and demoralized police force, and a community still at the mercy of street violence.
A charter amendment to replace the Minneapolis Police Department might be on voters’ ballots in November after activists submitted their petition to city officials. Yes 4 Minneapolis, a coalition of community groups, wants to replace the MPD with a new Department of Public Safety and shift authority over police from the mayor to the City Council. The group received $500,000 from George Soros’ Open Society Police Center. But does Yes 4 Minneapolis, or the other, highly visible activist group in the metro area — Black Lives Matter — really act on behalf and in the best interest of the community? Do they actually believe dismantling the police force will solve the nightly violence in the streets of the city or will it add to the aura of fear and lawlessness reaching into neighboring communities?
Wild Wild (Mid)West
As recruitment falls below levels that can replenish a proper police force, criminality fills the void. Over Memorial Day weekend, officers responding to reports of gunshots and vehicles racing just south of Columbia Heights had rocks thrown at them, damaging a squad patrol vehicle. According to Minnesota Crime Watch, the crowd was “extremely hostile” and officers cleared out, saying they didn’t have enough resources to deal with the situation. A similar incident occurred in the early hours of May 23 in Uptown at Lake Street and Lyndale Avenue South. Bystander video reveals how a group of drivers shut down the intersection for burnouts and street racing while hundreds of onlookers prohibited police from stopping the dangerous event. One car lost control and hit a pedestrian. The MPD doesn’t keep official records of these events, but Minnesota Crime Watch reported that this was at least the third pedestrian struck during one of these illegal events during that week. Nicholas Enger, 17, and Vanessa Jensen, 19, were shot and killed when stray bullets hit them while they watched illegal street racing in two separate events in Minneapolis in the early morning hours of June 6. The MPD reports street racing and burnouts surging over the past 14 months, and says that shootings are commonplace at the events.
The results are already in. Longer response time and reactive policing results in poorer service to law-abiding citizens in high-crime areas. Officers without backup lack the tools to handle confrontational situations and become overworked and overstressed and more prone to making poor decisions and risky mistakes. Budget cuts reduce training and pay scales, resulting in less qualified candidates and skilled officers. This is a cycle that must stop immediately. According to City-Data Crime Index, Minneapolis has a crime index of 529.4 compared to the national average of 270.6. Minnesotans have an opportunity to learn from these already ominous precedents and avoid being another metropolitan area that fails its residents through hollow platitudes and terrible policy.
Jenna Stocker is a Twin Cities-based freelance writer whose work has been published in The Federalist. She is a former United States Marine Corps officer and a University of Minnesota graduate.