Several dozen people gathered in north Minneapolis Thursday night for a town hall-style meeting urging city leaders to address increased gun violence in their North Side community.
The event, held at Zion Baptist Church and moderated by activist and civil rights attorney Nekima Levy Armstrong, was organized by Guns Down, Love Up, a public awareness campaign.
“[Gun violence] is something that weighs very heavily on us. Even as we’re out in the streets, demanding an end to police violence, we’re also demanding an end to gun violence in our community,” Levy Armstrong said.
Levy Armstrong and Raeisha Williams, an activist with Guns Down, Love Up, told elected officials that they were being asked to listen rather than speak.
Minneapolis City Council members Jeremiah Ellison and Phillipe Cunningham sat in the audience, along with a representative of the Minneapolis Park Board.
Panel member Farji Shaheer, who works at Hennepin Healthcare on an initiative to aid shooting victims and is a program manager for Guns Down, Love Up, noted that because of COVID-19, more community members are being shot in their own homes or at family events. Since people are staying closer to home, they’re unfortunately easier to find, he said.
If the community doesn’t “get a grip on what’s happening now,” Shaheer said, Minneapolis’ homicide rate will continue to soar.
Dr. Raj Sethuraju, a panelist who is co-chair of the Minneapolis NAACP’s criminal justice committee, said the community needs to solve the problem of gun violence from within, rather than relying on outside experts for help.
“I’m asking us how we’re going to put pressure on us, on ourselves and our government,” he said. “Every shot is a call for help.”
Marques Armstrong, a mental health professional, reminded people that trauma and internalized oppression began with slavery and continued throughout U.S. history. “That trauma is in our DNA,” he said.
About 40 audience members listened. Several got up to speak to the group when the forum was opened to all.
The Rev. Tim Christopher told the group that “we got to stop doing the same thing over and over.”
Christopher, a Minnesota Gun Caucus member, noted that one solution might be teaching young Black men more about guns — how they work and the consequences of using them.
“I think we’ve got to start with teaching these boys how much power they have in their hands,” he said.
Daesha Davis said she attended the event as both a Minneapolis 911 dispatcher and a resident. She said she hears about the impact of increased gun violence every day.
“Being a dispatcher in the same city that you live, you hear the frustration and the fear,” she said.