An eruption of violence in north Minneapolis this week prompted police to ask residents to be vocal about what was happening in their neighborhoods.
One of them was already onto that idea.
Daniel Field turned to social media as his exasperation grew over mattresses tossed onto front lawns, drug dealing across the street and prostitutes in the alley.
His Internet experiment became the North Vent Facebook page, a rollicking neighborhood conversation and a Realtor’s nightmare with 2,681 members posting dozens of times a day about local crime, car crashes, graffiti, garbage houses, shootings and more.
Field said he hopes that bringing these issues to light prevents an “anything goes” attitude that leads to even worse crimes.
“I’ve always been a believer that if you call attention to an issue it’s much more likely to be addressed,” said Field, who lives in the Cleveland neighborhood.
His site has taken on an even more serious tone and importance in the days after a bloody July 4th holiday weekend left two dead and three wounded. It’s that explosion of gun violence that brought Chief Janeé Harteau and Mayor Betsy Hodges to the North Side this week, urging residents to partner with police to help stem the violence.
The page was founded a year and a half ago, back when a merry band of cranks would use it to share pictures of weed-choked sidewalks in the neighborhood or to tell stories of witnessing public urination.
Since then it’s taken on a wider role, highlighting the needs of vulnerable residents, galvanizing the neighborhood into action when needed and raising money for people down on their luck.
“It’s great sermon material,” said Linda Koelman, a North Vent member and pastor at United Methodist Church. When she asked other venters to help serve a meal at a local homeless shelter, some two dozen people showed up with three times the amount of food needed. In another time of need, venters quickly raised $300 to buy a new bike for a teenager who had a bad crash and ended up in the emergency room.
“Those are the things you don’t hear about the North Side,” said Koelman. “All you hear is the crap.”
The acts of charity sparked by the page’s members included reaching out to the family of Shelly Terry when her grandson, Isaac Early, was accidentally shot in the head. He survived, but the family learned that same week that Isaac’s 5-year-old sister, DeNijah Harmon, had a life-threatening heart condition.
North Vent members raised money, bought gifts and visited the family in the hospital.
“They’re amazing people, I’ll tell you,” said Terry.
As it’s grown, the page has drawn the attention of City Council President Barb Johnson and Public Safety committee chair Blong Yang, both now members. Harteau and Hodges are not members, however. Field said he knows city employees watch the page because if someone vents about a rundown house for its code violations, city inspectors often show up at the house soon after. “We’ve had a lot of small victories,” he said.
Field said he used to try to talk about the North Side’s problems online but would get shouted down by people who wanted him to stay positive.
“They’d say, ‘Go meet your neighbors,’ or some other nonsense, but when there’s a prostitute in your alley that isn’t the solution,” he said. “People will come and do some peace march to curb the violence, but I don’t think people realize that all of this small stuff creates an ‘anything goes’ atmosphere.”
The page’s sweet spot hits those annoying neighborhood issues that rarely make the headlines, like petty vandalism, littering, broken down houses that go unrepaired and theft. A recent post showed a pickup truck resting on jacks, its wheels removed. “Someone needed new wheels?” reads the caption. The page has a running joke about abandoned mattresses.
It can get to be too much sometimes, said Connie Beckers, a North Side resident and local business owner. She went off the page for a while, worried about the things she was posting, but then had to get back into the conversation when she needed to vent about conditions in her neighborhood.
“I couldn’t take it anymore,” she said.