Linda Broyles sat in her darkened living room and talked about trying to bring light into the lives of Frogtown families damaged by gun violence. She’s used her dining room to host on-air community radio discussions with mothers and teens to urge healing and forgiveness.
“See, my son was murdered. And there are so many videos on YouTube [about revenge],” she said of John Marshall Broyles Jr., who was shot and killed in March 2016, a week before his 18th birthday. “And I tell them: ‘You need to let it go. He wouldn’t want that.’ ”
It’s been a tough year in Frogtown and along Rice Street in the city’s North End, neighboring St. Paul neighborhoods grappling with a dramatic increase in gunshots and shootings. Included in the violence was the June killing of a Mounds View man shot outside Born’s Bar on Rice Street and the September slaying of a St. Paul man shot outside the Lamplighter, less than 2 miles away. In Frogtown in October, two men were shot and killed less than 24 hours apart. Through the end of October, shots fired calls in the city’s Central police district, which includes parts of both neighborhoods, were up 41 percent over the same period last year.
But ask residents what they want done about the violence, and similarities end.
In Frogtown, neighbors like Broyles are using WFNU, Frogtown’s community radio station, to hold conversations about violence. They also are pressing city officials to boost youth outreach, invest in jobs and provide alternatives to gangs for young people seeking connections. While residents of the North End also stress addressing poverty and jobs, a vocal group of longtime Rice Streeters has taken to social media to demand mainly one fix: More cops.
“We pretty much feel like we’re being forced out of our home,” said Dee Walsh, who says frequent gunshots have so frightened her grandson that he plays, eats and sits on the floor when he comes over.
Said Gidget Bailey, who owns the Tin Cup’s restaurant on Rice Street where all the employees have permits to carry firearms: “You can live with being mugged. You can live with being burglarized. You can’t live being hit by a stray bullet.”
In many ways, the conversations about what to do about violent crime in these two central neighborhoods are a microcosm of a nationwide debate between enforcement and prevention.
Walsh, Bailey and Lynn Connolly, all residents of the Rice Street community, long for the days when the neighborhood had its own police station and when gunshots were rare. They say they like St. Paul Police Chief Todd Axtell and are happy with the police response when there is a problem. But more cops on the streets would curb the violence, they believe.
“They need to be a more visible presence,” said Connolly, who has lived in the neighborhood 65 years. “It’s scary.”
Instead, they said they see the City Council and other neighbors discussing gardens and street banners and bicycle lanes on Rice Street, and they fume.
“I had two cars shooting at each other outside my house in July or August,” Walsh said. “And people are talking about banners.”
Said Bailey: “I want my council representative to have guns and violence be her number one priority.”
Council Member Amy Brendmoen, who has represented the North End since 2012, said reducing crime is a priority. But choosing between adding police and exploring other ways “is a false choice. We don’t need to choose one strategy,” she said. “When I close my eyes and picture the safest neighborhoods, I don’t see neighborhoods where cops are marching up and down the street. I see people walking, parks, people flourishing.”
Her goal, Brendmoen said, is to “engage as many stakeholders as possible to come to the table and talk about how to make it safer.”
Multiple steps needed
North End residents James Berka and Hannah Riederer, who each have called the area home for the past decade, love their neighborhood — its proximity to both downtowns, its abundance of small businesses, restaurants and the availability of transit. Both say they feel safe.
While Riederer said she would support an “some sort of physical police presence in the neighborhood,” Berka said he doesn’t share other neighbors’ demands for more police.
“You’re not going to police yourself out of the problems we are dealing with in this neighborhood,” he said.
Axtell agrees. Police have stepped up enforcement by adding officers to the gang and guns unit and working more closely with federal officials. By targeting individuals known to be involved with gun crimes, police have gotten more than 20 violent offenders off the streets this year. They have also added a community engagement officer and are working to build better relationships throughout the city.
“Enforcement is part of the solution but it’s not all of the solution,” he said. “I don’t want our officers to be looked at as those who only enforce the law. We are guardians of St. Paul.”
At the Frogtown Neighborhood Association, Tia Williams, a longtime community organizer, said a better approach is attacking poverty and hopelessness with more jobs, longer hours at recreation centers and new playgrounds. Frogtown neighbors and businesses are doing this work, she said.
But Caty Royce, director of the Frogtown Neighborhood Association, said the city needs to invest even more: “We are building a community. We’re saying, ‘Resource it more deeply.’ ”
Tabitha Mitchell, a fourth-generation Frogtown resident, said she wouldn’t live anywhere else.
“There is diversity here. It’s rich in culture,” she said, adding she has never felt unsafe. “We don’t need more cops. We need people who can walk up to a group of young people and hold a conversation.”