Frisbees and children’s shouts careened across a makeshift disc golf course, part of National Night Out festivities in Edina’s Morningside Neighborhood.
One hand on a plate of potluck supper and another on the stroller carrying her 6-month-old daughter, Jennifer Ede watched another of her kids clamber across a jungle gym. The lighthearted mood at Tuesday’s event — dubbed Neighborhood Night Out in Edina— was a stark contrast for a part of the metro that had for two weeks been shaken by a tragedy.
The annual campaign to promote partnerships between communities and police was expected to draw thousands of neighbors to gatherings across the Twin Cities, with police and fire units expected to make the rounds to a number of them. More than 1,500 gatherings were registered in Minneapolis last year, the most among cities with populations greater than 300,000 nationwide.
This year’s event came amid growing suspicion toward law enforcement from the communities they police.
In June, Jeronimo Yanez, a former St. Anthony officer, was acquitted by a jury in the shooting death of Philando Castile. On July 15, Justine Ruszczyk Damond was shot by a Minneapolis police officer behind her Fulton neighborhood home after calling 911 to report a possible sexual assault. Her death, which drew international headlines and led to the forced resignation of the city’s police chief, occurred just 2 miles from where Ede stood on Tuesday.
As her neighbors socialized, Ede said she was grateful for the opportunity to meet new people in the neighborhood — especially families with kids her children’s ages. Ede said she believes community partnerships with law enforcement are ultimately beneficial. “Whatever you could do to promote understanding of, you could say two sides, is positive.”
There was little concern when a pair of St. Paul police officers strolled into the parking lot of St. Stephanus Lutheran Church to greet the several dozen people who gathered in the city’s Frogtown neighborhood. But residents said they have noticed a trend in the area that’s putting them on edge.
Ethan Du purchased a house several blocks away from the church hoping it would be a place to raise his family. On a recent night, though, after hearing several gunshots, he decided that in the next few years, after he’s saved enough money, he’ll move his family “someplace better.”
“But I know some of my neighbors and that gives me comfort,” he added.
Others said that neighborhood events like Tuesday’s can be crucial to creating a safe and welcoming neighborhood.
At St. Stephanus, kids were playing with farm animals at a small petting zoo, getting their faces painted and playing games on the blacktop as parents mingled.
As she looked on, Rosa Ortiz said her opinion of police has changed because of her experiences and those of others she knows.
“I can’t trust them anymore,” Ortiz said. “I know not all cops are bad, but the few that are, are making everyone look bad.”
Others at St. Stephanus agreed that the few “bad apples” distract from the good that police officers are doing.
Kellie Reed and her sister Bree Bailey have noticed that despite crime seemingly going up in the neighborhoods, the number of patrols hasn’t changed.
Reed and Bailey, who both have biracial children, said they have had talks with their kids about how to interact with police.
“We’re having those conversations early on, but we are encouraging them that police are good,” Bailey said.
“I’m a middle-aged white woman and police sometimes just wave to me,” Reed said. “But my 20-year-old mixed son had the cops called on him for playing with his phone at a park across the street from our house.”
In Burnsville, Police Chief Eric Gieseke was among city officials fist-bumping and high-fiving kids at a gathering at Berean Baptist Church, one of about 130 across the city.
Church official Kay Larson said officers have told her they’re happy to feel appreciation at such events.
“I think there’s a good appreciation that goes both ways,” Larson said. “It kind of takes the mystery away.”
The mood was the same in Minnetonka, where Sharon Dewitz hosted an annual barbecue at her Minnetonka home. City Councilman Tim Bergstedt was there, one of about 160 across the city that he said are loyally attended by civilians and cops alike.
“I think it really creates that social fabric that makes for a strong community,” he said. “Particularly for the police and fire people, it’s a totally different experience than what they live the other 364 days of the year.”
In southwest Minneapolis near Harriet Avenue just south of 38th Street, neighbors watched members of Minnesota Traditional Morris perform an English folk dance.
Morris dancer Amy Muldoon called the festive performance a draw to the neighborhood’s block party.
“Also, beer,” her husband Dean Muldoon joked.
Neighborhood block leader Anne Birch has lived on the street since 1998. It’s reminiscent of her childhood in Ohio, where she and other kids played on and owned the streets. The neighbors here watch out for each other, Birch said. But while she feels safe, Damond’s killing and other police-involved shootings have troubled her.
“There’s a lot of concern about safety,” she said. “I think there’s a huge concern about police being quick to kill.