The killing last week of 3-year-old Terrell Mayes Jr. was a horrific departure from a five-year decline in gunfire injuries in Minneapolis.
The number of people wounded by gunfire in the city grew steadily from 1999 to 2006, climbing from 115 to 306, according to data collected at hospital emergency rooms.
The injuries then steadily fell off to 154 last year, and the books are going to close on 2011 with the year seeing the lowest number of victims in 10 years. The data, maintained by the state Department of Health, includes injuries from assaults and accidents.
The drop comes amid a wave of new strategies to address crime among teenagers, the most common victims of gunshot injuries, from employment programs for at-risk teens to police patrols in crime "hotspots" to things as simple as extending the hours of the city's park recreation centers.
More changes are yet to come, vow city staff and nonprofit agency workers, but others say the host of social programs meant to intervene before a child picks up a gun aren't enough to make streets safe.
Social workers in Minneapolis who see gang members say the kids tell them it's easier to get a gun than a library card. Fourth Precinct Inspector Mike Martin directs his officers in north Minneapolis to search people for illegal guns whenever possible. Officers there are responsible for seizing half of the 505 guns taken off the streets in 2011, city records show.
Terrell, who was struck inside his home by a bullet fired from more than 100 yards away, is the second Minneapolis child killed at home by a stray bullet in a decade. Since August, four Minneapolis boys, ages 3 to 16, have died from gunfire in cases that remain unsolved.
Even more children have been shot and survived, records show, including an average of one toddler (age 1 to 4) each year for the past decade.
A call to action
It was the rise in juvenile crime five years ago that sparked a city-led effort to stop youth violence. What became known as the Blueprint for Action focused on 22 Minneapolis neighborhoods and sought to connect kids with a trusted adult, intervene in kids' lives when necessary and help them "unlearn the culture of violence."
At a May news conference, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder praised the program for a 58 percent drop between 2006 and this time last year in Minneapolis incidents involving guns and youth. Youth homicides in the city also fell sharply during that period, as did curfew arrests and pregnancies per 1,000 youths ages 15 to 17, according to the city.
Minneapolis Health Department Commissioner Gretchen Musicant said it was through the Blueprint efforts that the city developed a program known as North4. It takes gang-affiliated youths and gives them an adult mentor and several months of job skills training. "We've had quite good success at keeping those young people in the program," she said.
The city also began this year to offer "community listening sessions," in which relatives and friends of a homicide victim are invited to sit down at a neutral site with mental health professionals to talk about their grief. It's been offered to the Mayes family, said Musicant.
"In Minneapolis, you find young people that have experienced more than their share of traumatic experiences. Their mourning process, their way of dealing with that, is not often highly guided and supported," she said.
The city this year also asked North Memorial Hospital and the Hennepin County Medical Center to screen juveniles for their needs when they show up in the emergency room with a gunshot wound or other assault injury. It's an opportunity to reach out to those kids, said Alyssa Banks, the city's youth violence prevention coordinator.
"It's a golden moment, when you have someone who's been a victim of a violent assault, you can reach them and change their perspective," she said.
Eliminating idle time
Finding jobs for kids can be one of the best ways to fight juvenile crime, said Linda Bryant, a youth program manager at Emerge, a Minneapolis nonprofit founded in 1995. It gets them engaged and can put them in the hands of a caring adult.
The city's parks have also been a part of the Blueprint mission, extending the hours at seven park recreation centers on Friday and Saturday from 9 p.m. to 11 p.m. Those centers also got Xbox Kinect game systems to give kids something new to try. "Not every kid wants to play basketball or football," said Park Board President John Erwin.
The Park Board also allocated money recently for fixed video cameras at North Commons park.
And eager to bring more kids, especially those falling through the cracks, into the parks' recreation programs, the board hired someone this year to connect with at-risk kids whether through churches or going door-to-door, he said.
Terrell's death may have snapped people's attention back to the problem of youth violence, said the Rev. Jerry McAfee, pastor at New Salem Baptist Church in north Minneapolis, but it shouldn't have required the death of a toddler, he said.
"We need to get death and violence away from our community at all ages," said McAfee.
"We've been playing these games for years," McAfee said. "How come there is no great push to stop the flow of guns into the community?"
Matt McKinney • 612-217-1747