young and armed  the scourge of teen gun violence

Minneapolis teen struggles to avoid line of fire

One family shows how the threat of illegal firearms hangs over life on North Side.

The first time someone pulled a gun on Malik Morgan, he was 12 and walking home from Wally’s Foods with chips and a bottle of iced tea.

Several guys he recognized from north Minneapolis’ Stick Up Boys gang taunted him near the corner of Golden Valley Road and Penn Avenue: “Are you trying to be in SUB?”

Malik mumbled no and walked faster.

“We got guns.”

“I don’t mess with that.”

The other boys swung at Malik a few times. Then one pulled out a handgun. Malik cried for help and escaped.

The provocation was never reported to police — but it’s a constant threat for children like Malik trying to grow up in neighborhoods infested with illegal firearms.

In his visit to north Minneapolis in February, President Obama praised the “Minneapolis model” of intensive social work for reducing gun violence among young people. Yet in introducing the president, Police Chief Janeé Harteau invoked the names of Nizzel and Terrell, two toddlers slain in their own Minneapolis homes over the past 15 months by bullets fired from outside, to reveal how any child can be at risk in places where guns fall into the wrong hands.

The number of guns confiscated from the streets of Minneapolis and St. Paul rose in 2012, aided by a robust market supplied by legal and illegal dealers. Since 2007, more than 1,100 handguns, rifles and shotguns were taken off the streets in Malik’s North Side ZIP code alone.

Over the past decade, 22 teens and children have died by gunfire in that area, making it the most likely place in Minnesota for young people to get shot dead.

One of them was a close friend of Malik’s, a 13-year-old named Ray’Jon Gomez, who lost his life in August 2011 after being shot while riding a bicycle. One of the suspects, who was 15 at the time, said in court last month that he meant to shoot someone next to Gomez.

Malik thinks he’s seen six guns in the hands of boys not much older than him.

Malik, now 15, has no desire to arm himself. He just wants to roam the neighborhood without lectures from his parents and harassment by gangbangers with guns. So he didn’t tell his parents about his run-in with the Stick Up Boys. He knows how much they already worry every time he goes out.

A friend dies

Malik’s mother, Margaret Morgan, scans the floor of the Metrodome, searching for her son. She knows he is down there, on the floor, amid the throngs of monster truck fans, T-shirt vendors, a pair of women in bikinis promoting one of the monster trucks and a parade of dads carrying their young sons on their shoulders. It’s three weeks before Christmas and this is something of an annual tradition for Margaret, her husband and their son, who loves trucks and dreams of working on them one day.

She descends the last few steps from the bleachers onto the field and charges into the crowd.

“If Grave Digger’s on the floor, then that’s where he’s at,” says Margaret, her feet kicking up dirt as she crosses the stadium floor. She soon finds Malik and his friend, who have been checking out the monster trucks before the show starts. They’ve already met Grave Digger’s driver, Adam Anderson, and start posing next to each truck as Margaret dutifully snaps photos.

The arena is noisy, and soon the trucks will buck and bounce over barriers strewn across the floor.

  • related content

  • Now 15, Malik Morgan was 12 when he first faced a gun, pulled by one of the boys...

  • Margaret Morgan, on the steps of her Willard-Hay home last fall, moved to north...

  • At a monster truck show, Malik was worried only about fun and souvenirs.

  • In 2011, Jose Morgan held Malik, then 13, during a peace vigil on West Broadway....

  • Malik, focusing more on basketball, readied with his Farview Park team for a game.

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