As a hot, muggy day turned into a mild summer evening, families across the Twin Cities ventured out their front doors with folding chairs and plates of food in hand.
Days after the horrific shootings in Texas and Ohio that left dozens dead and wounded, neighbors bookended their streets with traffic blockades and came together to share food and drink, keep an eye on each other’s kids and celebrate National Night Out.
“It’s such a contradiction to sit here and enjoy this night when the country feels less safe, the world feels less safe and we know how lucky we are in this tiny little moment,” said Rebecca Penfold-Murray, who gathered with her neighbors on Juno Avenue in St. Paul. “I know there are others who will never feel safe to celebrate this way ever again.”
A mile away, Alex Ives sipped a beer on Brimhall Street as St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter helped set up a bouncy house in the middle of the block — the second stop of about a dozen the mayor planned to make. In Minneapolis, Mayor Jacob Frey was also crisscrossing the city.
Though the neighbors on Brimhall are close-knit — and the violence over the weekend has felt far away — Ives said it’s still frightening to think about.
“You look at those communities — you look at Dayton, Ohio, and it’s a lot like the Twin Cities,” he said. “But you know what? We’re out here, and it’s fine.”
Across town in Coon Rapids, half a dozen neighbors gathered in a circle of folding chairs under a large American flag on Pat and Kay Pelzer’s lawn.
An online Nextdoor group has helped keep tabs on suspicious activity in the neighborhood, residents said, and they’ve developed good relationships with police officers who respond to frequent calls at one house in the otherwise quiet community.
Even in the wake of recent mass shootings, Dan Smith, who lives four houses down from the Pelzers, said he isn’t afraid to attend large public events or stick to his routine.
“I’m not gonna waste my life worrying about that any more than I ran around worrying about nuclear bombs as a kid,” he said.
“A lot is being done behind the scenes to keep us safe,” added his wife, Betsy Smith.
The shootings in El Paso and Dayton, which unfolded in less than 24 hours and left 31 people dead, have renewed calls for more stringent gun laws.
On Tuesday, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine urged the GOP-led Legislature to pass laws expanding background checks for gun sales and allowing courts to restrict firearms access for people perceived as threats.
Legislators in Minnesota’s DFL-led House sought to expand background checks and pass a “red flag” law last session, but Senate Republicans did not hold hearings on the two measures. Gov. Tim Walz said Monday that he would ask Republican Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka to hold hearings on gun control measures this fall.
In some Twin Cities neighborhoods, fears of gun violence hit close to home.
At a block party Tuesday evening on 37th Avenue in north Minneapolis, residents said most days are peaceful, but they occasionally hear shootings — including one last weekend.
“It’s a little unnerving, but usually it’s been pretty good,” said Arturo Gonzalez, who attended the party with partner Crystal Felch and 9-year-old son Liam. “We don’t want to let it get to our heads so it won’t scare us to go out.”
Ashlei Berry, who brought her father and two children to the block party, said mass shootings have made her nervous to go places with big crowds.
Still, she decided to go down the street for the party, where her 4-year-old daughter and 2-year-old son dipped yarn into buckets to make bubbles. Her children, she said, are her motivation to be strong.
“I don’t want them to miss out on stuff because I’m living kind of scared,” Berry said. “And plus, I believe in God, so I feel like we’re going to be OK.”
Staff writers Miguel Otárola and Liz Sawyer and the Associated Press contributed to this report.