The shooting deaths of two men in downtown Minneapolis last weekend continued a troubling pattern. Young men are killing, and getting killed, in the hours around bar close, and few seem to have good ideas of how to stop it.
After the shootings, Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges released a statement: “One homicide is too many; every victim leaves behind loved ones who grieve the loss. This type of violence will not be tolerated in any part of our city.”
Criminals appear to be ignoring our collective lack of tolerance for violence. Shootings downtown were up 20 percent from 2015 to 2016.
“Ten people shot in the first eight days of 2017 is not a good start,” said Jacob Frey, a Minneapolis City Council member and candidate for mayor. “It’s ridiculous.”
The issue came up in December, when business leaders sent a letter to Hodges expressing an urgent need to tackle the problem. The letter indicated some of them didn’t think city leaders were giving the crime issue the proper attention.
In the last election, economic issues like mandatory sick days, increasing the minimum wage and equity dominated the discussion. Now, the issue of public safety, whether it be downtown violence or police-related shootings, is forcing itself into the mayoral race, with caucuses three months away.
“It’s one of the biggest issues I will consider when voting for mayor,” said Tim Balfanz, a bar manager who works and lives downtown. Balfanz said that he’s lost confidence in both the current mayor and police chief on the issue. Particularly after police-related shootings across the country, “both Mayor Hodges and Chief (Janeé) Harteau are trying to toe the line with the criminal element on Hennepin Avenue,” he said.
“It’s certainly of concern to the business community,” said Jonathan Weinhagen, president and CEO of the Minneapolis Chamber of Commerce. He acknowledged the problem is complex, with some of the crime due to gang activity and other incidents involving people with mental health problems. “It’s a challenge because if you peel back some of the data, crime is down in some areas.”
But perception becomes reality, Weinhagen said. “The narrative view is people saying I’ve been downtown for 20 or 30 years, and I’ve had employees say that they don’t feel comfortable walking to their car,” he said.
What does he want from mayoral candidates?
“That first and foremost they acknowledge it’s a top priority to make sure the downtown core is safe for people and businesses,” he said. “There has to be a willingness to address this.”
Weinhagen did say Hodges has spoken up about downtown crime lately and has been working with various businesses and law enforcement to improve the situation. In December, she pushed to hire 15 more police officers, against the vocal wishes of some community members, and the council approved it.
Steve Cramer, president of the Downtown Council, said there is likely consensus that socio-economic issues need attention to curb the violence, but he wants all candidates to know that “there is an element where a strong law enforcement presence is needed or nothing happens, and not just downtown.”
Rep. Raymond Dehn, DFL-Minneapolis, represents much of downtown in the Legislature, and he’s running for mayor. Dehn has been a vocal critic of police shootings of unarmed men in north Minneapolis, but he’d like to see more focused attention on the entertainment district until the problem subsides. “[But] I don’t know that just more police is the long-term solution,” Dehn said.
Nekima Levy-Pounds, a civil rights attorney running for mayor, calls downtown crime “a microcosm of issues we’ve been talking about for years” and says violence that has been constant in some neighborhoods is now being seen by the broader public and getting more attention.
Levy-Pounds agrees with a need to attack the problem downtown, but with a coalition of community, business and legal cooperation so that enforcement doesn’t lead to profiling. “I don’t see adding more police officers as an appropriate response to the problem,” she said.
Frey said safety would be a priority if he becomes mayor. “Safety in every neighborhood, regardless of ZIP code, is an equity issue,” said Frey, who thinks the city has made some progress. “I think the key piece that has not been accomplished is mass coalition building” between the courts, community, businesses and the judicial system. He favors narrowing beats so officers get to know residents and businesses in the city core.
Balfanz, as a resident, is willing to help.
“If you want to know who is doing what on Hennepin Avenue, I can ride along and point them out,” Balfanz said. “Same people, time and time again.”
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