St. Paul officials and residents concerned about East Side crime

  • Article by: NICOLE NORFLEET , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 15, 2013 - 12:23 AM

Meetings follow a recent shooting and a nearly fatal beating in St. Paul.

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The call Tuesday night was distressingly familiar for police patrolling St. Paul’s East Side this summer: young gang members clashing, this time near Payne and Jenks Avenues.

Officers sped to the scene, where 10 teens from rival gangs appeared to be arguing. Arrests were made, limiting the flare-up to a verbal fight.

But in recent weeks, similar incidents have tragically escalated — a 17-year-old shot to death in July, a 26-year-old neighbor nearly beaten to death last week.

East Side violence has put residents and city officials on high alert, resulting in a mayoral session earlier this week on how to deal with gang disputes and prompting a community meeting Thursday night at Arlington Hills Lutheran Church, where police and prosecutors will address questions and concerns from residents.

“Several disturbing incidents on the East Side have made it clear that we must continue to push forward to find new ways and new strategies to meet the challenges on the street,” Mayor Chris Coleman said Wednesday in his budget address.

But Pamela Felipe, 62, who has lived in her home at Minnehaha and Payne Avenues for nearly 50 years, doesn’t need authorities to tell her what is happening in her neighborhood. She can see it for herself.

“It’s those punks that want to prove that they are bad,” Felipe said, standing in her doorway Wednesday.

Despite being a stone’s throw from the Eastern District police station, she has watched large groups of roaming youths cause trouble on her block. She’s seen schoolgirls duking it out in the street and boys as young as 7 using an empty lot near her house like it was their personal playground.

“It’s amazing what these kids are doing,” she said, adding that perhaps what they needed was a “good [butt] whooping.”

A wake-up call

Felipe lives not far from where, according to authorities, a large gathering formed Aug. 4 outside a house party where girls were fighting as people looked on.

Raymond Widstrand, 26, who lives in a nearby apartment, was trying to walk through the crowd when he was knocked to the ground and then beaten, authorities say. When police arrived, officers found 40 to 50 juveniles and young adults fleeing the scene and Widstrand on the ground, bleeding from his nose and mouth.

He was taken to Regions Hospital, where he was found to have potentially fatal brain swelling. He’s still in critical condition, according to his CaringBridge site.

Three teenagers, whom prosecutors are trying to certify as adults, and one young adult have been charged in the beating. Authorities believe many of the assailants are members of the East Side Boyz or their affiliates, the Ham (Hoes and Money) Crazy gang.

Some people wonder whether Widstrand, who is white, was attacked because of his race. The Ramsey County attorney’s office said earlier this week that police had yet to show that racial bias was a motivating factor. If that is proven, officials could favor a longer sentence for the suspects.

Several residents said they didn’t think race had anything to do with the beating.

“I think if you are in a gang, you just fight anybody that walks by you. I don’t think they care,” said a 37-year-old woman who works near the site of the beating. The woman, a lifelong East Side resident who is white, didn’t want her name published for safety reasons.

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