Hours after he fell to the ground clutching his stomach Monday night near Lake Calhoun, Derrick Martin became more than the latest Minneapolis homicide victim.
His killing was a chilling chapter in what police and other sources say has become a dangerous feud among gangs, one that has caused an uptick in the city's murder rate after several years of decline.
It also has everyone from beat cops to pastors to the mayor fearful of what lies ahead this summer if the feud escalates. Some of them say the volatile new gangs are less organized and harder to control than gangs of a decade ago.
"They don't want to listen to anybody," said Bishop Richard Howell of Shiloh Temple International Ministries, a North Side church that's worked with troubled youth. "They just want to retaliate."
Martin's killing was the city's 20th so far this year -- a tally now higher than all of last year -- and it was particularly brazen: He was walking on a heavily used bike path on the lake's west side when he was ambushed. Investigators say they're worried that fellow gang members will avenge his death.
Police Inspector Michael Martin (no relation) of the North Side's Fourth Precinct said police knew the victim as a leader in the Taliban gang, which has been around since 2005. Officers had arrested him for possessing a gun.
The Taliban is one of the most active and violent gangs in Minneapolis, but it's not large, Martin said, adding that the Taliban has tried to gain respect from other gangs through violence.
While the investigation isn't complete, Martin said he believes the latest killing stemmed from the Taliban's longtime rivalry with the 19 Block Dipset gang and its offshoot, the Stick Up Boys.
Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak pointed out that this year's rise in homicides follows three years of "double digit" decreases in crime.
"There's not a single issue behind it," he said. However, he acknowledged that many of the shootings were gang-related.
"It's important not to use the old assumptions of rigidly structured gangs," said Rybak, adding that the newer gangs are "more loosely affiliated, fluid groups that are sometimes more random."
He said some of the violence has come from young men walking out of jail and restarting old feuds.
The city plans to put more resources on the street, "a lot of people power and technology," he said, but he declined to give details, implying that it would tip off criminals.
Rybak lambasted drug users, saying their habits fuel the violence.
"When you pay for marijuana, you are paying for the bullet that goes into the head of someone on the streets," he said. "Too many people have winked sideways without being honest that it's white middle class Minnesota that's paying for the drugs that put profit into gangs that kill people."
Fought at funeral
Police and other sources cited multiple factors in the recent escalation of gang violence. Several active gang members have been released from prison, and warm weather has everyone out on the streets. The high-profile homicides of Alisha Neeley, DeCarl Starr and Kyle Parker have heightened tensions, Inspector Martin said.
Neeley, 17, was shot outside a party in February by a known gang member who may or may not have targeted her, witnesses told police. Rival gang members fought at her funeral.
Also gang-related, according to Martin, were the deaths this month of Starr, 18, and, last year, of Parker, 19, a high school basketball player and Taliban member.
Police are particularly concerned about Derrick Martin's death because he was well connected, and his killing appeared premeditated, Inspector Martin said.
"We don't want retaliation," said Martin. "We need to get to the kids and tell them, even though they are upset, let us do the retaliation by finding the killer and putting them in prison."
No one has been arrested in Martin's death, said Capt. Amelia Huffman. Until the investigation is complete, she's hesitant to conclude the killing was gang-related.
"People affiliated with gangs get involved in incidents motived by domestic issues, robbery or drugs that may or may not be directly tied to doing something to benefit the gang," she said. "A fatal flaw in an investigation is to decide what kind of case you have in advance of having all the evidence."
Fighting gang violence is something the department works on day in and day out, she said.
High-profile cases like Martin's or Neeley's tend to highlight the problem, said Huffman, but she added that the city isn't at "some major tipping point."
A hopeful march
Yet it was clear Wednesday from interviews with youth workers that they're feeling like something has changed.
"I'm perplexed, just because of the cyclical nature of this," said Sondra Samuels, who works with city youth through the Peace Foundation. "You feel like things are changing. ... You take all these steps forward, and then you take all these steps backward."
A Christian street minister who has lived and worked in the Jordan neighborhood for five years said many people have told him that a new gang trying to assert itself was behind some of the shootings.
"They're getting a lot of ... repercussion back to them, and things are a little chaotic right now because of that," said James Mullen. "People are dying."
A neighborhood rally and march planned for June 13 along W. Broadway will draw people who want to put a stop to the violence, said Howell, of Shiloh Temple.
"It's a sad day, but it's a hopeful day, too," he said. "There are people out there right now trying to talk to these people."
Matt McKinney • 612-217-1747 David Chanen • 612-673-4465