Mob attacks bring call for earlier curfew

  • Article by: MATT MCKINNEY , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 31, 2012 - 11:23 AM

Changes to curfew times and bus routes are under consideration to discourage youth crime.

After a string of random youth-on-youth attacks along Nicollet Mall, the Minneapolis Police Department has asked the city attorney's office if it can impose an earlier curfew along the mall and Hennepin Avenue. The 8 p.m. curfew would ban ages 17 and under from two of downtown's most active streets while allowing them to come and go for Twins games and other events, said Inspector Kris Arneson, who runs the downtown precinct.

"We want kids to come down here," she said. "We just want them to behave."

Meanwhile, Metro Transit is evaluating whether to shift east-west bus routes to discourage loitering at a key downtown intersection.

The mob attacks picked up in early February and have targeted men in their teens or 20s. About six attacks have included one in which a man was so badly beaten he was sent to intensive care at Hennepin County Medical Center; in another attack on March 23, a man had his jaw broken when he was suddenly punched by a pedestrian while riding his bike down Nicollet Mall.

Authorities have made at least four arrests.

The motivations for the attacks remain unclear, but they've stirred anxiety about the security of downtown streets just as warmer weather begins to draw people out. Pressure on police to tamp down on street crime comes from those who want to showcase the city's one-of-a-kind arts and performance venues and from businesses who want to keep their employees safe. Target Corp., whose headquarters is just blocks from the scene of some of the most recent attacks, has funded safety initiatives through the Downtown Improvement District.

Arneson said the earlier curfew is only at the discussion stage, and would eventually have to go before the City Council for approval.

The county's existing curfew for Sunday through Thursday requires those under 12 to be home by 9 p.m., 12- to 14-year-olds by 10 p.m. and 15- to 17-year-olds by 11 p.m. On Friday and Saturday nights, curfew is an hour later for all ages.

Street scene

On a recent night, crowds lingered along Nicollet Mall either waiting for buses or strolling the pedestrian walkway. It was a cool night compared with temperatures seen in early March, and it didn't draw the kinds of big crowds that lead to some of the problems, said a street musician who's long played on Nicollet Mall.

"All the problems usually come from there," said trumpeter Jocephus Lomax, pointing to the bus stop at 7th Street and Nicollet.

It's the busiest of all Metro Transit stops, handling more than 4,000 boardings a day, according to spokesman John Siqveland. Because of that, the stop gets extra attention from Metro Transit police, with patrols during peak travel times and extra patrols during warm months.

Siqveland said that Metro Transit officials are considering changes to the city's east-west bus routes to more evenly distribute bus passengers. No final plans have been adopted yet, though.

Why?

The nature of the attacks has puzzled police and the victims who've been hit. Some have been robbed, but others merely knocked to the ground and beaten. A man who was assaulted said he has no idea why he was targeted.

"I was knocked out cold," said Tony Beasley, 28. He was walking along 5th Street at 11:30 p.m. on March 16 and had just crossed Nicollet Mall. "We got surrounded by four or five kids right away," he said. "They were taunting us. They were kind of laughing."

Beasley didn't think it would turn serious, but then someone punched him from behind. They chased his friend for half a block and then dispersed. They didn't take anything from Beasley, leaving him with his phone, wallet and keys.

"They all seemed to be wearing skinny jeans and stuff that was more like skater kid stuff, which made me feel as though they were from the suburbs," he said. "It's a totally unfounded guess, but that increased my feeling that I was in no immediate danger."

Authorities told Beasley they didn't have enough evidence to investigate his case.

Several victims in the most recent round of attacks were bicyclists, prompting the head of a local bike advocacy group to urge vigilance.

"There's no place that should be safer than bicycling on Nicollet Mall," said Ethan Fawley, board president of the Minneapolis Bicycle Coalition. "It takes the most brazen of criminals to want to do something so obvious in that environment."

For now, police will continue patrols, aided by Downtown Improvement District (DID) workers. The employees, easily distinguished by their neon yellow hats and vests, wear radios that link them to police and about 300 security guards who work at downtown offices.

The radio link has proven its worth repeatedly, said Shane Zahn, DID director of safety initiatives. Using the radio system and the coordination of hundreds of security guards, DID employees and the police, the coordinated effort has found lost kids and helped catch fleeing robbers, he said. The DID employees and security guards have also been alerted to the recent wave of attacks.

With only one mob-style attack in the past 12 days, Arneson said she hopes the trend is quieting down. And the reason for the attacks? "I think I would be rich if I could figure out why," she said.

Matt McKinney • 612-217-1747

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