What it’s like to live with violent crime

Violent crime is up 19 percent in Minneapolis in 2021 in large part due to a decline in the quantity of policing in the city. 90 percent of the gunfire reports since 2020 came from five neighborhood clusters: Near North, Camden, Powderhorn, Phillips, and Central which, I’m told, make up about 25 percent of the city. There are, then, large swathes of Minneapolis where you might not know that this explosion in violent crime is happening. This probably accounts for the failure of many to take it seriously.

One thing that we have learned over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic is that people often place more weight on a striking story than they do on data. We have seen the data on violent crime in Minneapolis; what about the stories?

From the Star Tribune recently:

Etta Riley has learned to listen for a hiss when she hears pops erupt outside her Minneapolis townhouse.

The hiss brings relief. It means that bottle rockets are being fired in her neighborhood, not guns.

Riley, a 57-year-old school bus driver, remembers waiting for that reassuring sound one night in May. A group of strangers had gathered on a boulevard near her house — again — to throw dice, blast “cussing music” and drink from beer cans that would litter the street come morning. The gambling worried her. She has seen it lead to fights, which lead to guns. She called 911 and watched out the window as a police cruiser passed by and didn’t even slow down.

Soon a crackle filled the air. This time, there was no hiss.

Riley stepped outside that night and watched police cordon off the nearby convenience store with yellow tape. She found out Aniya Allen, a kindergartner, had been shot there. She wonders if it would have made a difference if police had really shown up that night.

“There’s just too much killing going on,” Riley said.

Riley lives on a block of the North Side’s Cleveland neighborhood that saw a 200% rise in gunfire compared with a dozen-year average before the pandemic.

“You hear gunfire, it’s like hearing birds chirping in the morning,” said Juliee Oden, 55, who lives in the Jordan neighborhood, where shots have doubled. Oden’s street has seen an even larger increase in gunfire. She has moved her bedroom from the front to the side of her house and acquired a steel plate to place behind her headboard in fear of being struck by the shots she hears at night. “I’ve listened to two situations where people have actually died,” she said.

“It’s never been like this,” said Kia Banks, 42. Banks works in an assisted living home in the Folwell neighborhood, where shootings are up about 140%. Her clients love their community but feel unsafe walking outside in the afternoon. “I don’t like to stay after dark and be driving around at night. I’m afraid of that.”

A block away, a mother is selling her house, fearing her kids could be the next to get caught up in a hail of stray bullets.

“I just keep my kids away from the windows, and mainly I sit on my floor, because just in case, I don’t want to be hit or have my kids hit,” said the woman, who feared that her name appearing in this article would make her a target.

Five miles south, in the Loring Park neighborhood, Kim Valentini has started locking the doors to her store even when it’s open.

Living in this area for about 30 years, Valentini, 60, has seen it grow into a beautiful center of the city. A mix of new apartments and the ones built a century ago have made it one of Minneapolis’ densest and most eclectic neighborhoods. That’s why she chose Loring Park to open the retail arm of her charity, which provides oral surgeries for impoverished kids around the world.

But about 19 months ago, the neighborhood abruptly changed. “The bottom fell out,” Valentini said.

Her business has been burglarized five times. Her car has been stolen twice. Her family wakes to gunshots in the night.

Gunfire reports in Valentini’s neighborhood are up almost 400% through August compared with prepandemic averages, and the neighborhood’s first homicides in years have put the small community on edge.

Valentini believes police want to help, but they’re stretched too thin. At the same time violent crime is rising, police data show arrests for these offenses dropped by around one-third this year. “I feel guilty, frankly, about making calls to 911 about hearing shots fired,” she said. “If there isn’t imminent danger, I don’t call.”

Blocks away, Sam Turner, 40, has stopped serving dine-in customers at his 24-hour restaurant at night because gunfights, usually coming from a dice game across the street, have made the area more dangerous for staff and customers.

“They shoot straight up in the air, because they don’t even realize those bullets land somewhere,” Turner said.

Bullets have rained down on cars, the trees and facade in front of the Nicollet Diner and nearby apartments, in one case lodging into the drywall of a neighbor’s bedroom, he said. “Hopefully the election comes and we get some politicians who give a crap about public safety,” he said.

Tears spill down Julie Ward’s cheeks when she thinks about Trinity Ottoson-Smith, the 9-year-old girl shot while jumping on a trampoline at a birthday party this year. Ward lives two blocks from the shooting site with her granddaughter Aubrey and heard the shots.

“That girl was the same age as [Aubrey],” said Ward, 66. “We have a trampoline. That vision, I just can’t get it out of my head. If she got shot, oh, my God, it would kill me.”

Aubrey skips across the street, her long braids bouncing with each stride, to where neighbors host an ice cream social on a humid evening in August. “I do want to move,” said Aubrey. “I want to see what that feels like.”

Her street is lush and dotted with character-rich homes, many well-maintained by their owners, interspersed with long-neglected and wilted ones. Some are recently vacant. Ward moved here in the late 1980s. One day she was in the backyard with her kids when two men darted through her property with guns akimbo. She’s known since then her neighborhood has a dark side. But she fell in love with her house and her neighbors. Not until this year has she ever contemplated moving. “I’m scared,” she said. “I don’t want to go. But it’s too close.”

Ogi Carter hears the shots in her Folwell neighborhood, too. She woke up recently to someone firing slowly into the air from a moving car. The next morning she found shells in front of her home. “It shouldn’t be like that,” she said.

From an article by Reuters this week:

Sharrie Jennings’ grandson, Ladavionne Garrett Jr, 10, was shot in the head while he slept in the back seat of his parents car on Minneapolis’ north side. He remains hospitalized more than four months later and only recently started breathing on his own. The shooting happened during the day on a residential block on the city’s north end; police so far have made no arrests.

“This is every day, there’s shooting, there’s drug dealing,” Jennings said. “I’ve never been immune to the gun violence, but it was men on men, and now it’s kids and women. These are our future doctors, lawyers, mayors, and they’re not getting a chance at life.”

Jennings said she won’t let her other grandchildren outside to play. She obtained a permit to carry a gun.

“This happened at 2 o’clock in the afternoon,” she said. “There were other kids out there. It could have been way more tragic than it was. And this is just every day in Minnesota streets, in Minneapolis streets, and the police just ride by like it’s OK.”

For the residents of a good chunk of our state’s biggest city, life is increasingly miserable thanks to escalating violence. This is a tragedy in which, so far, state authorities have shown no interest.