The outbreaks of gunfire on busy Hennepin Avenue ignited outrage Wednesday from Minneapolis business leaders and law enforcement, citing a string of similar street crimes in that area since the warm weather took hold.
Around bar closing time over the weekend, two people were shot in a parking lot next to the Gay 90s club in the 400 block of Hennepin Avenue. Two blocks to the south and two days later, more gunfire wounded a man sitting down and having a smoke.
In his first response as police chief to the heightened concern, Medaria Arradondo pinned Tuesday evening’s shooting at 6th Street and Hennepin Avenue on “someone with no regard or respect for others [who] chose to settle their conflict with a weapon.”
As officers hunt for the shooter, Arradondo declared in a statement, “Violence in any form will not be tolerated in our city. We are working hard to make sure that downtown and all of Minneapolis is safe and vibrant.”
Downtown Council President Steve Cramer is equally troubled by people taking up guns to settle disputes. He added that such violence “is especially unacceptable downtown, where the density of people present increases the chance of an innocent bystander simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time.”
Cramer, whose council promotes and represents business interests downtown, said that “our community will not tolerate downtown becoming a free-fire zone, period.”
Ex-Chicagoan is witness
Recent Chicago transplant Zack Stranz was near 6th and Hennepin on Tuesday with his parents, who were visiting from small-town Illinois, when he saw two men walking together and then exchanging punches.
One of the men fled and “turned the corner. That’s when the other guy shot, [missed his intended target] and struck a guy sitting on the ground smoking a cigarette.”
Stranz said the shooter faced him and his parents, holding the gun at his own belt buckle. “I told my parents to go in Kieran’s [Irish Pub],” he said. “I turned back around … and saw [the wounded man] lifting up his shirt and walk into Jimmy John’s with a friend.” Police said Wednesday that the injured man was in stable condition.
The number of serious assaults such as shootings and stabbings downtown has climbed steadily in recent years, peaking at 81 in 2015, according to department statistics. This year, assaults leading to serious injury downtown are on pace to hit 78, a 42 percent jump from 2010, records show. The vast majority occur in Downtown West, which includes the entertainment and warehouse districts.
Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman’s office, which prosecutes gun crimes in the city, filed charges Tuesday in the Gay 90s incident. Freeman said his office will seek the harshest penalties possible against defendant Travion J. Jones, 28, of Roseville, who is charged with three counts of second-degree assault with a dangerous weapon and being a felon in possession of a firearm. After a witness pointed him out, Jones was quickly apprehended by bike cops.
According to charges, Jones shot at a security guard who had pepper-sprayed him and then fired into a crowd of people. A 34-year-old woman was shot in the foot, a 41-year-old man who earlier had been shoved by Jones was shot in the wrist and the scrotum, and the security guard had a bullet go through his shirt near his left armpit. Jones has been convicted three times as an adult for drug possession and also for fleeing police and disorderly conduct.
Going after guns on the street
Through the end of July, 317 people had been shot in Minneapolis, compared with 239 during the same period last year.
“If we cannot stop this senseless gunfire,” Freeman said in a statement Tuesday, “we will at least use all of the tools available to us to try to send these shooters away for longer periods of time.”
Joe Tamburino, a defense attorney who chairs the Downtown Minneapolis Neighborhood Association, called Tuesday’s shooting of a bystander “a very predictable situation. ... I have constantly talked about the crime problem on Hennepin.”
He said the city needs dedicated patrols around bar closing time. He also cited the City Council repeal last year of an ordinance prohibiting the obstruction of sidewalks as a factor in recent problems. The council eliminated ordinances prohibiting such low-level crimes as spitting, lurking, or congregating on streets and sidewalks in groups because the rules were vague and susceptible to being used by police to disproportionately target people of color.
“Those of us concerned about street crime in downtown have predicted that innocent people will be shot by criminals downtown unless we crack down on the street problems,” Tamburino said, “and we were all right.”
There have been at least two other incidents since mid-May and within a few blocks of this week’s bloodshed that affected bystanders.
After bar closing on June 3, a 22-year-old woman was paralyzed after being shot in the torso while waiting in line outside Pizza Luce. Police believe a suspect fired from a vehicle on the corner of 4th Street and 1st Avenue N. The shooter has yet to be caught.
On May 13, a visitor from Britain was shot while eating at a sidewalk table outside Lyon’s Pub on 6th Street, just east of Hennepin. Two people were charged in the crime involving two groups of young men.
Arradondo said that some of Tuesday’s shooting was captured on video surveillance and his department is increasing police presence in the area in response.
Going after weapons
The chief added that his department is attacking gun violence citywide by going after weapons on the streets and gang activity. He said that so far this year, “weapon recoveries are up over 50 percent citywide compared to last year, with officers taking 654 guns off the street.”
Stranz, the witness to Tuesday’s shooting, lives in downtown’s North Loop. He said he sees how “sketchy” the scene can be around the light rail station at 5th Street and Hennepin, not far from the scenes of this week’s shootings.
Another shooting around bar closing time this week rattled a St. Paul business strip early Wednesday and left three people wounded just outside Born’s Bar on Rice Street.
A woman was shot in the leg, as was a man. Another man was shot in the hand, police said.
Police Sgt. Mike Ernster said investigators were sorting out how the three people might have known each other and what motivated the gunfire. No arrests have been announced.