Neighbors in some of Minneapolis’ most crime-ridden neighborhoods have started taking pictures and video of potential criminal activity and posting it to websites and social media sites.
The effort to alert neighbors and embarrass would-be criminals has drawn a strong following online, but now there is fresh concern that some residents are getting too aggressive, potentially putting themselves and innocent residents in danger.
A video recently surfaced on a popular website showing a north Minneapolis resident apparently drawing a gun on a young black male whom he suspected of dealing drugs in front of his home.
Police said that the video captured an incident that occurred Saturday evening in the Cleveland neighborhood on the city’s North Side and ended with both men calling 911.
The young black man was sitting in an idling car in front of a house on the 3600 block of Sheridan Avenue N. last Saturday, chatting with a friend, when a resident came out of the house and started recording the scene on his cellphone.
Whipping out his own phone, the man in the car filmed the resulting exchange — in which he gets out of the car and confronts the man, who brandishes a gun at one point — and posted the video on his Facebook page, claiming that it underscores the problem of young black men being viewed with suspicion in some of the city’s long-troubled neighborhoods.
The 4½-minute video, which since has been shared hundreds of times on the social networking site, sparked a heated online debate about what some see as the problem of crime-weary residents taking the law into their own hands.
In a statement on Wednesday, Fourth Precinct Inspector Mike Friestleben said that police were called to the dispute about 5:45 p.m., but that neither man wanted to make a report at the time.
“Officers mediated the dispute, believing that no crime had occurred, based on the information they had at that time,” Friestleben said.
At the center of the debate is North Vent, a Facebook forum for North Side residents that has more than 4,000 members, most of whom post sometimes scathing, sometimes lighthearted updates about everything from crime, car crashes, graffiti, and abandoned mattresses to shootings. Police and city officials have been known to post to North Vent.
Some North Vent contributors “promote that cowboy-type behavior. They try to justify that cowboy-type behavior,” said Lisa Neal-Delgado, a longtime local resident. “This is not the wild, wild West. They’re going to instigate something and somebody is going to get killed.”
A more appropriate response for neighbors concerned about crime, Neal-Delgado says, would be to simply call the police. She added that the case mirrored that of Trayvon Martin, a black Florida teen who was shot and killed by neighborhood watch volunteer in 2012.
“People have got to understand. They have got to call the police,” she said on Wednesday. “They cannot go out carrying guns or knives or other weapons to videotape a car.”
In recent months, there have been several encounters between residents and criminals. Longtime residents say there are more incidents of exasperated neighbors confronting suspected drug dealers, recording their activities and posting them onto online groups like North Vent.
At one point in the video, the black man is heard saying that he has “got the right to walk down the street and take pictures, just like him,” to which the other man responds that there has been “a lot of drug dealing going on.”
“I’m not dealing drugs,” the young man responds, adding that he was being singled out because of his race.
Daniel Field, North Vent’s creator, encourages residents to police their neighborhoods.
“In the absence of any consistent intervention from the police and the city in general, we do encourage people to go out and confront people,” Field said.