Frustration over the continuing violence and drug sales at one north Minneapolis street corner filled a community meeting this week, where solutions were sought for cleaning up what one senior police commander called the worst block he had ever seen.
About 25 people gathered Thursday at the Minneapolis North Workforce Center, which overlooks the troubled corner of N. 21st and Aldrich avenues. Participants pleaded for more help from police and City Hall, complaining that the criminal activity there was making it harder for them to help people who come to the center looking for a job or a GED program.
Anthony Williams, who runs the Minneapolis Public Schools’ adult education program, said that enrollment in his program is down 30% compared with this time last year — a drop-off that he blamed, in part, on students’ reluctance to visit the workforce center, at 800 W. Broadway Av., out of safety concerns.
While he says there haven’t been any incidents involving students, many have expressed concern about walking to class at night past boisterous groups of young men hanging around on the corner or shooting dice in a nearby alley. Fights are common, he said, and drug dealing happens nearly round-the-clock, even after police planted a mobile camera nearby following a recent homicide.
Meanwhile, merchants say the groups are driving away business by loitering in front of stores and harassing customers.
Fourth Precinct inspector Kelvin Pulphus said that staffing shortages and a reluctance by witnesses to come forward in such cases contributed to the continued problems at 21st and Aldrich, which he deemed “the worst I’ve seen of any other community that I’ve worked at.”
After a series of arrest sweeps this summer, police have been devoting much of their energy to an apartment building on the same block that has been the source of countless resident complaints. Some attendees complained that despite the added police presence, the troublemakers were back hanging out at the corner every morning, like clockwork. They tend to loiter in the center’s parking lot or behind the apartment building, sometimes posting lookouts to warn dealers that police are in the area.
“When we come, they whistle and run,” Pulphus said.
Much of the drug activity, they say, dates back to the Aug. 24 slaying of Ky’reon Watkins, a 23-year-old father of infant twins who was shot dead when a confrontation on that block ended in gunfire.
The block — which also includes a Merwins Liquor store, a check-cashing business and a church — has gained such a reputation for violence that locals have taken to calling a nearby gas station by a grim nickname: the “Murder Station.” Last winter, three people were injured in another shooting — one of them a 14-year-old middle schooler walking to the corner store to buy candy.
Pastor Edrin Williams of Sanctuary Covenant Church said more could be done to reach out to the predominantly black and male crowds hanging out on the block.
“These aren’t robots, these aren’t people who are unreachable, but we can’t be afraid to approach these guys,” he said.
According to Earl Jordan, some of that disconnect comes from years of what area youth see as racial profiling and police harassment.
“You’ve got dreads and white T-shirts on: you’re a gang member,” said Jordan, a security guard who says he’s gotten to know some of the men while making his daily rounds.
While several participants raised the idea of moving a nearby bus shelter they say is a magnet for drug activity, Gwen DeGroff-Gunter, a retired Minneapolis police lieutenant who now works with the Metro Transit Police doing recruitment and outreach. She said the agency would first have to study the potential impact that such a move would have on the area’s mostly minority, working-class residents.
In the meantime, she said, the focus should be on delivering a message of hope even to those who get arrested outside the center.
“Tomorrow when you get out, you can go back to this building you were selling drugs in front of, and get your GED,” she said.