A recent spate of shootings in Minneapolis has prompted angry soul-searching among police, elected officials and residents of the neighborhoods hardest hit by the violence, which the city’s police chief has declared a “public health crisis.”
Through late September, 185 people had been wounded or killed by gunfire this year, according to police crime statistics — 18 fewer than in the same period last year. But those tallies didn’t capture the full picture of the city’s gun violence problem, Chief Medaria Arradondo said.
“Too oftentimes, our young boys and men who have been lost to violence, their names have been relegated to the back sections of the newspapers, or they’re considered disposable, simply because of the ZIP code they reside from,” Arradondo told the City Council’s Public Safety & Emergency Management Committee last month while making a public plea for help in preventing further bloodshed. “While [police do] a very good job of bringing those folks who are responsible into apprehension, we need to do better in terms of doing all that we can to prevent these things in the first place.”
More troubling, he added, the victims are overwhelmingly young black men.
“When we talk about the disproportionality of the race of our young black and brown boys who are losing their lives, it is clear that in the city of Minneapolis, 75 percent of our shooting victims are African-Americans,” he said. “It’s a public health crisis, quite frankly.”
Police officials have pointed to recent success in fighting crime and halting the usual wave of summer violence by beefing up the department’s gang unit and focusing on a few individuals who are typically responsible for driving up crime rates.
Year over year, crime is down across the board citywide, with violent crimes such as homicides and aggravated assaults down nearly 20 percent and property crimes falling about 14 percent.
The number of robberies, in particular, has plummeted — roughly 33 percent, from 1,391 in 2017 to 936 so far this year.
Yet gun violence, which is down roughly 9 percent from last year, remains stubbornly high in some neighborhoods. The Third Precinct in south Minneapolis has seen a nearly 50 percent increase in the number of gunshot victims.
One recent homicide occurred Sept. 25, when a gunman walked up to a man who was sitting in a car near the corner of 21st Street and Bloomington Avenue S. and fired 11 shots inside from close range, according to police.
Salad Sahal, 32, died at a nearby hospital. An arrest warrant was later issued for 28-year-old Yassin Yusuf, who remains a fugitive.
Days later, a 4-year-old boy was hurt when a gun went off, apparently accidentally, in a north Minneapolis home.
About 60 percent of shootings can be tied to gang activity, said Sasha Cotton, the city’s youth violence prevention coordinator.
This summer, Mayor Jacob Frey vowed to intensify efforts to curb shootings and other violent crime after an exceptionally bloody weekend left 10 people shot, four of them fatally.
A deadly gang feud
Arradondo and some of his senior commanders have called on the community, council members and other city agencies to find solutions to the shootings.
The Fourth Precinct, which covers most of the city’s North Side, has accounted for nearly 60 percent of gunshot victims since 2016, department statistics show.
The past few months have seen a surge in gang-related violence that traces back to the brazen daylight slaying of Nathan Hampton, gunned down in July within earshot of hundreds of people attending a community kickball game.
Much of the violence has been attributed to a feud between two gang factions — the High End and Low End — although the past few months have seen emergence of new crews like the Red Tape gang, which traces its roots to Chicago.
The number of activations of ShotSpotter, a device that detects and locates gunfire by triangulating sound picked up by sensors, jumped to 1,950 in 2017 from 1,917 the year before, the highest total since 2009, police records show.
Last month’s meeting followed the release of FBI statistics showing a slight dip in the country’s violent crime rate in 2017 after several years of increases.
In Minneapolis, a similar trend is underway.
Before last year, the citywide violent crime rate — the number of crimes per population — had been creeping up after falling significantly during the late 2000s, according to a Star Tribune analysis of available data.
Arradondo and others said that most of the violence is occurring in two of the city’s five police precincts, in neighborhoods that have historically had high levels of poverty, unemployment and incarceration. Gun violence is stubbornly persistent, with roughly 8 percent of city blocks accounting for 64 percent of gun violence from 1990 to 2015. There were 386 blocks with 10 or more shootings during that period, department data show.
In St. Paul, where African-Americans also make up a disproportionate number of the shooting victims, the city’s black leaders have made similar pleas for public help after spikes in gun violence the past few years.
Justin Terrell, executive director of the Council for Minnesotans of African Heritage, said people “have to stop the narrative” that the black community only reacts when a police officer shoots and kills someone, ignoring everyday street violence.
“The overtones of black-and-black crime is the story and narrative to justify the fear of black people to justify the killing of black people by police or anybody else,” he said earlier this year. “The assumption that we don’t mourn or the community is not activated after gang violence is a myth.”
Asked about what strategies are being employed to reduce crime, Arradondo singled out NextStep, a hospital bedside program, and Project L.I.F.E., a cousin of the CeaseFire program credited with reducing violent crime in some U.S. cities by focusing on the small subset of individuals and gangs responsible for most of the shootings and homicides.
The program’s targets are given a clear ultimatum: Put down their guns in exchange for services to help them get on their feet, or face the full might of law enforcement.
“I personally believe that there are more young boys who have been out here living, thriving and chasing their dreams because of [the groups’] work,” he said.