Blasts rang out as Keion Franklin pulled up to a red light in north Minneapolis on Monday. He thought at first that he heard firecrackers, but he quickly realized they were bullets when he saw nearby pedestrians begin to scatter. Franklin ducked, honked the horn and raced around the corner.

The shots kept coming — he thought he heard at least 30 — and struck four people, including a man Franklin knew from working with youth at Farview Park.

Still wearing a neon vest from his job at a cement company, Franklin watched in wary disbelief as police sealed off the stretch of Lyndale Avenue north of W. Broadway. He had been thinking about crime, the roles police play and the meaning of racial justice more than ever since the May 25 killing of George Floyd under the knee of a Minneapolis cop and the “defund police” movement that followed.

Now those forces had converged in the latest of a spate of shootings on the North Side, as city leaders scrambled to call in outside law enforcement to help stop the violence.

“I know on one side of the city, it looks beautiful for defunding to happen,” Franklin said from the parking lot of Merwin Liquors as investigators marked shell casings that fell inches from where his car had driven. “But here on this side of the city, I’m scared if you defund the police … Is it going to turn into World War III over here?”

Surveying the block, Steven Belton, president and CEO of the Urban League Twin Cities, noted a “significant, dramatic uptick” in violent crime since June 7, when nine Minneapolis City Council members publicly pledged support for defunding police.

Belton called the move irresponsible, even as he supports transforming the department. He said those council members had not consulted with people who have a stake in the black community, particularly those on the North Side.

Violent people “have used that sound bite — ‘defund the police’ — as an indication that there is no consequence, that there is no policing, and [concluded] that they are free to do whatever they want to do,” Belton said.

‘I needed to get up’

A month ago, Franklin was watching TV with his 15 year-old son, Jaydin, when they saw the news of Floyd’s death.

Not again, he thought.

From the start, the 37-year-old Franklin saw himself in Floyd. They were both black fathers who moved here from the South — Franklin from Arkansas, Floyd from Texas. Franklin had faced racial profiling and tense encounters with cops.

He hadn’t joined past protests against police brutality. But a friend who participated in demonstrations over Michael Brown’s 2014 killing by police in Ferguson, Mo., stressed the importance of being at “ground zero.” Franklin demonstrated for seven days straight and paid homage to Floyd where he died on 38th Street and Chicago Avenue.

“I realized, instead of sitting here being voiceless, I needed to get up,” Franklin said.

In the wake of riots and looting that followed Floyd’s death, residents joined together on the South Side to patrol their own streets. Franklin was convinced that a smaller police presence could work in part of the city. But he wasn’t sure about north Minneapolis, where he served as a football coach to 10-to 14-year-old boys at Farview Park.

Last October, Franklin and fellow coach Clinton Scott were leading their team through stretching and conditioning drills when two men were shot in a drive-by near the north side of the park. The same month, the parent of a player punched them during a dispute at a game, and they said police were slow to respond.

The men unsuccessfully advocated for more park police patrols in the area.

“I’m tired of being put in these situations where we don’t have police on the field,” Scott said.

Like Franklin, he was frustrated by a perceived mismatch of public safety officers to community needs.

“Either the police are over-policing or in the next minute they’re just nowhere to be found,” Scott said.

Outrage over Floyd’s killing spurred Franklin to volunteer with ISAIAH, a faith-based coalition fighting for racial and economic justice. He went with Scott to North Commons Park for a discussion on public safety that ISAIAH co-hosted on June 14 for black residents.

Wearing a T-shirt that said, “Get your knee off our neck,” Franklin hung back in the shade as speakers voiced their frustrations with law enforcement. He listened as organizer Brian Fullman said that Police Chief Medaria Arradondo is a good man, but he’s part of a system that must go.

“There’s a culture inside of the Minneapolis Police Department, and to extract the culture, you’ve got to strip it down to its bare bones,” Fullman said.

Franklin believed that working with youth through the park system could make a real difference in breaking the cycle of violence, but he doubted that community involvement in north Minneapolis was widespread enough to offset the elimination of the police department, as some activists have promoted.

A rash of shootings

Early Sunday morning, a fusillade of gunfire tore through Uptown, injuring 11 people.

Afterward, police said 113 people had been shot in Minneapolis since Floyd’s death.

The violence carried into Monday, when a 2:30 p.m. shooting near the southwest corner of North Commons sent one person to the hospital in critical condition and wounded three others.

Ninety minutes later and a mile to the east, Franklin was driving south on Lyndale when he heard the gunshots that caused him to seek cover. He later learned that his acquaintance from Farview Park took a bullet in the ankle.

Arradondo briefly visited the corner as a crowd gathered.

“Y’all don’t need to be here right now,” Franklin told some of the boys he knew from Farview Park. “Because if they get to shooting again, y’all will be in the midst.”

Franklin said with his extended family in Arkansas, he’s on his own in Minnesota. He worries not just for the future of his three sons, including a 4-year-old and 1-year-old, but also for the boys he coaches.

Franklin was conflicted over the best solution to the city’s violence. But he believes much would improve if officers policed communities where they live. Just 8% of Minneapolis police officers live in the city. He thinks a lot of North Side kids are over-policed for petty violations, which make it harder for them to find work or to feel safe when police respond to more serious crimes.

“It’s like a no-win situation in some cases for our youth because they don’t know who to trust and who to look to for safety besides people in the streets,” Franklin said.

‘The murder station’

The intersection Franklin drove through when the shots broke is marked by a Winner Gas Station that has been the site of so much crime that the locals call it “the murder station.”

For several hours after the shooting, people came by to ask what happened. Franklin lamented that it almost seemed like the day’s entertainment. He explained the shooting to one woman passing by and told her about the attack near North Commons, too.

“Tonight is going to be crazy,” he predicted.

An hour after Franklin left the scene, someone was wounded by gunfire a half-mile north.