It may have started around 2005 as a dispute over a fake gun. Or, as one veteran gang investigator testified during a recent federal trial, the bloody war that has raged through several north Minneapolis neighborhoods goes back to the decade-old slaying of a suspected member of the local “Taliban” gang.
No one knows for sure.
The question of origin hangs over many shootings here, where police say a disrespectful post on Facebook or Snapchat can jump-start a ruthless cycle of violence that has killed dozens. An upswing in gang activity coincides with a year-over-year increase in violent crime citywide, though overall crime levels are still far from where they were at the height of the crack epidemic in the 1990s. The most recent crime statistics available show that there have been 204 gunshot victims, 11% more than there were this time last year — but roughly the same as the city’s five-year average.
Minneapolis police Chief of Staff Art Knight said some of the violence stems from what he sees as a lack of investment in solutions to the gun violence in a city where roughly four out of every five gunshot victims are black men.
“When you see it just happen to minority parts of the city, it’s like, ‘I don’t care what happens to them; everyone for themselves,’ ” he said. “I just think it’s just disregard from a lot of our elected officials just for minority people, just in general.”
In some ways, today’s gang members have inherited the age-old rivalries over territory and drug sales that drove those of previous generations to bloodshed. But in others, their disputes tend to be more personal in nature, said Sasha Cotton, director of the city’s Office of Violence Prevention.
Yet gang members today still have emotional ties to the past. Most have likely heard stories of predecessors, like the Stick Up Boys’ Dacari “Pudda Loc” Starr and Taliban’s Derrick “D-Nice” Martin, even if they are too young to remember their murders.
African-American gangs on the city’s North Side that once fought over drug turf have splintered into dozens of smaller cliques that eventually divided into two factions, whose territories are roughly divided by West Broadway, the area’s main commercial drag. The violence, tied to the opposing “High End” and “Low End” factions even spread to the Minnesota State Fair over Labor Day weekend, according to sources with knowledge of the investigation, resulting in gunfire that wounded three men.
Some trace the origins of the current conflict back to a 14-year-old dispute that arose when a high-ranking member of one North Side crew tried to sell a fake gun to another gang. Angered by the deception, the other side responded with gunfire, setting off an escalating series of attacks.
Others say the war started with the shooting death of Tyrone “Ty Crack” Washington, a high-ranking 1-9 member, who was killed by Taliban rivals in 2013 during a rap concert at the since-closed downtown nightclub Epic. But years later, at the federal weapons trial of Washington’s younger half-brother, a Minneapolis police officer who specializes in gangs testified that the on-again, off-again war predated Washington’s death, going back to the slaying of Kyle “K-Top” Parker, an aspiring rapper who was affiliated with Taliban, in 2009.
More recently was the brazen daytime slaying last summer of Nathan Hampton, — a former North High football player who was home visiting from college when he was supposedly shot by a member of the Chicago-based Red Tape gang with whom he’d had a run-in — which authorities say unleashed a wave of revenge shootings.
In the view of police officials, today’s gang violence is largely fueled by social media, which is used to taunt and threaten rivals, or the result of beefs that can span years, involving not just gang members, but their families and friends, as well.
Police have tried different strategies for reducing the violence, from monitoring gang members’ online activity to visiting the homes of friends of homicide victims to talk them out of seeking retribution. They also keep an eye on gang funerals and vigils, which sometimes invite further bloodshed — as was the case in June when gunfire broke out at a North Side funeral home that was under surveillance by the FBI’s Safe Streets Task Force, wounding two men.
Several high-profile arrests by Safe Streets and state, local and federal authorities have reduced the violence, particularly on the city’s south side, but the shootings continue.
Two recent homicides involved known or suspected Young ’N Thuggin’, or YNT, associates, raising fears of retribution against Low End gangs. Court filings show that a summertime shooting between rivals was over two women who were embroiled in a social media feud, while another gang shootout left 51 bullet casings strewn across a northeast Minneapolis street. This, as authorities say that some of the violence has moved across the river — with some North Side crews aligning themselves with St. Paul gangs like HAM Crazy.
Jamil Jackson said he doesn’t know the exact reasons for the hostilities between North Side gangs, many of whose current members have passed through his youth sports program at Farview Park over the years.
“That’s just something that’s kind of morphed itself from the cliques that were out five or six years ago, that morphed out from the gangs that were out 10 years ago,” said Jackson, an instructor with the Minneapolis Public Schools Office of Black Male Student Achievement and head basketball coach at Patrick Henry High School. Many youth lack discipline and guidance from parental figures, a role once filled by fathers, grandfathers and even older gang members who had aged out of street life, said Jackson.
“Today, our [original gangsters], if you will, are only 25, 26, so they don’t know to steer people away from that lifestyle,” he said.
Many gang members need help coping with psychological trauma from losing loved ones and their own close calls with street violence, said Ayolanda Evans, director of partnerships for Protect Minnesota, a gun-violence prevention group. Left untreated, she said, it “can drive people into things that they really don’t want to do.”
“This is a public health crisis — it’s beyond the person-to-person: ‘I’m mad at you so I’m going to shoot you and I’m going to take out your mama,’ ” Evans said.
Gang life has become so ingrained in some neighborhoods that residents there start to accept the mayhem it brings as a fact of life, said John Turnipseed, executive vice president of Urban Ventures.
“When I operated a gang, I only operated where my fellow citizens would allow it: If I could hang out on your block all day and sell drugs, and you’d walk right past me, then that’s what I would do,” said the onetime gang leader-turned-pastor.
Cotton, the violence-prevention director, believes the issues young gang members face are often rooted in their circumstances, which leads to hopelessness that can be hard to penetrate. Many are essentially homeless, bunking with friends, she said. Others were raised in violent households.
“The origins of these Highs and Lows beefs are almost like urban legend, where there are hundreds of different versions,” Cotton said. “But, what ultimately ends up happening, whatever the beginning war was over is old news.”