At 2:45 a.m. one day last week, St. Paul City Council President Russ Stark awoke to gunshots outside his home.
“It’s nothing unique, honestly, in our city,” Stark said.
That familiarity with shots fired is something he and city officials across the country hope to curb. More than 120 mayors, including Minneapolis’ Betsy Hodges and St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman, are participating in National Gun Violence Awareness Day on Thursday to combat what Coleman called an “epidemic” in the U.S.
Gun safety advocates are urging community members to wear orange and join a march across the Stone Arch Bridge on Thursday night. Landmarks, including the Interstate 35W bridge and the Enger Tower in Duluth, will be illuminated in orange.
The Twin Cities have struggled with gun violence this year. The number of people shot in Minneapolis so far in 2016 is outpacing last year. A shooting last week on the North Side killed a grandmother driving with her grandchild. In St. Paul, a spate of spring shootings, including one that killed a teen at Indian Mounds Park, prompted officials to plead for residents to put down their guns.
Community policing and youth outreach are key to reducing violence, as is anticipating and understanding gang issues, St. Paul City Council Member Chris Tolbert said. Cities also need to provide activities for young people and make sure they have productive things to do that keep them out of trouble, he said.
“There are those in the community who think it’s OK to shoot indiscriminately. They have no respect for human life,” St. Paul’s interim Police Chief Kathy Wuorinen said at a meeting last week where City Council members — donning orange pins, ties and T-shirts — voted to proclaim June 2 a day of awareness.
This is the first year the “Wear Orange” march will be held in Minnesota, said Marit Brock, with the Minnesota chapter of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America. Brock said she hopes the event spurs people to talk about gun use in situations including domestic violence and suicide.
“Having a big, bold awareness event is a great way to start conversations with friends and neighbors about really what is the impact of gun violence,” Brock said.
The Wear Orange campaign originated on the south side of Chicago, where 15-year-old Hadiya Pendleton was shot and killed in 2013. Her friends asked other teens at their high school to honor her life by wearing orange.
One week before her death, Pendleton marched in President Obama’s second inaugural parade. Last week Coleman told the St. Paul City Council that he attended the inaugural event, unaware that one of the children marching before him would be murdered in a week.
“It is absolutely critical that we attack this issue, that we work as hard as we can as a community to reduce the number of people — particularly young people in our community — that are needlessly dying,” Coleman said.