Nobody was interested in spending the time or the negative energy to give Mike Freeman any flak at the baker’s dozen of National Night Out block parties Hennepin County’s chief prosecutor visited on Minneapolis’ North Side on Tuesday.
A few months ago, it was a different story, when the county attorney decided that his office wouldn’t seek criminal charges against two Minneapolis police officers in connection with the November shooting death of Jamar Clark. For weeks before and weeks after Freeman’s call, protests were held in some of the same neighborhoods.
But Tuesday evening’s celebrations were about food, old and new friends and, at some parties, high energy from dancers, church choirs and participants alike.
Freeman and more than 230 staff members from his office fanned out across Minneapolis for the block parties; Freeman said they’d probably hit 1,000 in total. Hundreds of police officers and sheriff’s deputies also stopped by to hand out rubber bracelets, stickers, plastic sheriff’s badges and candy. There was a lot of handshaking, but no signs of tension or protests at the gatherings Freeman visited.
In his first stop, at Lynway Manor, 2415 N. 3rd St., Freeman showed off a temporary tattoo on his right biceps that read “Be @ school,” with the image of a school bus. Asked if he thought he might face blowback through the evening related to the Clark decision, he said, “I honestly don’t know. … Usually I do more listening than talking.”
“I’m glad he came out,” said Raymond Muse, president of Lynway Manor’s resident council. “It showed that somebody cares, not just behind a TV screen.”
The 3300 block of Fremont Avenue N. was the place to be for swag Tuesday evening. A bevy of organizations — from Big Brothers Big Sisters to county and state health departments to Metro Transit police to Medica to charter schools — was giving away items as varied as fruit, bracelets, condoms, flying discs, candy, mini sewing kits and bags that read “Chlamydia is not a flower.” Two large grills were being worked at full tilt preparing hot dogs and hamburgers.
At a gathering on 37th Avenue N., resident Regina Tarver, representing the Camden Neighborhood Senior Center, said she was glad to see Freeman. “He’s a politician. That’s what they do, don’t they?” she said.
While good cheer dominated most of the north Minneapolis gatherings, whose size ranged from nine to more than 100 people, some residents were frank about the problems they face. At a small gathering in the 4200 block of Girard Avenue N., Brandon Burbach pointed out to a reporter the spot where two children were shot recently, one fatally, as they rode in their father’s van.
“Most of us have had our house robbed, our car stolen,” he said. “There’s no investigation. If you live in Plymouth or Edina or any other suburb, you take it for granted that there will be an investigation. Not here. There’s just no time [for police] to follow up. I feel that has to change.”
One of Freeman’s longer conversations was with Marc Rassler, who told him that he’s having problems getting tenants to move out of his house so he can move back in. The tenants aren’t sleeping there, but have left “a disgusting mess,” Rassler said, and he’s stuck living in a hotel after returning from his latest overseas tour with the National Guard.
“Let me tell you what we can do to help,” Freeman told him. He described the legal process for dealing with a problem tenant and encouraged Rassler to “give me a call tomorrow.” Rassler thanked him and the two shook hands.
At Freeman’s 12th stop, a community celebration at 33rd and Penn avenues N., it was all about high energy. Nine teens danced a routine to “This is War,” followed by the adult choir from the Spirit and Truth Worship Center. The neighbors boogied, cheered and sang along. A few yards away, boys played a raucous game of basketball. Kids sat at folding tables with hot dogs and watermelon.
“This is a great one,” Freeman said. “Very few people know I’m here, and who cares? This is people taking their neighborhood back.”
‘Our little kingdom’
Freeman ended the evening and enjoyed a beer or two in the 2900 block of Golden Valley Road, where Hennepin County District Judge Martha Holton Dimick has held a National Night Out party for four years. It has grown bigger every year, she said.
There were ribs, brats and all kinds of food in the attached garage, as well as cold beer (and juice boxes) in coolers. Kids played football and tag in the side yard.
Holton Dimick and her husband bought the foreclosed house five years ago and rehabbed it. A fourplex next door was rehabbed and is now home to formerly homeless women.
Holton Dimick said her neighborhood is eclectic and diversified. “We try to keep track of who’s moving in and out,” she said “We watch over each other’s property.”
She said she and her family moved to north Minneapolis from Shorewood.
“We just got tired of the commute,” she said. “We love it. This is our little kingdom.”