Situated in the heart of north Minneapolis' commercial district, the corner of W. Broadway and N. Lyndale Avenue is home to a grocery store, a Walgreens, and a gas station that locals have taken to calling the "murder station."
The Winner Gas station very nearly lived up to its dark nickname again when a 19-year-old was shot there last month. He was one of at least 21 people to have been struck by gunfire around the intersection since last June.
Now, as Minneapolis sets about reimagining public safety, this rough stretch of the North Side may provide a telling first test of a new strategy that prioritizes mental health care and drug treatment to address the cycles of trauma that can lead to violence.
Last month the City Council — spurred by the movement to defund police that grew after George Floyd's death — voted to divert nearly $8 million from the Minneapolis Police Department's budget to fund its vision of crime prevention by investing in teams of trained, unarmed professionals who could be sent to certain 911 calls, instead of officers.
Locals say something has to be done about the violence and drug trade at Broadway and Lyndale, which many feel would not be tolerated in more affluent parts of the city. That it's allowed to go on, some say, is part of a pattern of neglect and disinvestment that stretches back decades, made worse by the COVID-19 pandemic that has exacted a steep toll on Black and Latino communities.
Community outreach specialist Maleta "Queen" Kimmons said she doesn't support getting rid of police altogether — "I'm just anti-bad cops" — but says a new approach is needed to deal with the young people with no place to go who hang out there. For too long, she said, the area has been an afterthought to the decisionmakers at City Hall.
"They're going to get to Black folks when they get to Black folks — that's how it is on the North Side, that's how they see us," said Kimmons.
As the city's opioid epidemic has spread to the North Side, the intersection has turned into one of the city's largest open-air drug bazaars. Residents often must push their way past the dealers who crowd the parking lot outside Merwin Liquors and peddle their wares to passing motorists.
Even in an exceptionally violent year for the city last year, the troubled corner stands out. For example, a woman driving past the intersection with her three young children was struck by a wayward bullet in October.
Two weeks earlier, two men were wounded in a shooting outside Merwin Liquors. And in late July, a man was shot during another confrontation in the same lot. Violent crimes including homicides, robberies and serious assaults increased 18% compared with last year in the two neighborhoods around the intersection, according to MPD crime statistics.
But the figures only tell part of the story, locals say.
On most days, Nicole Monette drives past the rowdy crowds milling around, shooting dice and drinking, in the lot outside Merwin's and the needle exchange site run by Northpoint Health and Wellness, where she works as a community health specialist.
Monette said she's frustrated with troublemakers, but also recognizes that their lives have been shaped by structural racism and poverty.
Sasha Cotton, director of the Office of Violence Prevention, said that hot spots like Broadway and Lyndale will be the focus of the city's crime prevention efforts.
"There's going to have to be deep considerations about what sort of solutions can be brought forward in 2021 for Merwin's when we have this diminished capacity," she said.
Before the widening of Olson Highway, neighborhoods like Near-North and Hawthorne were home to a mix of thriving Black-owned businesses, clubs and stores. Today, a third of families in that part of the North Side — whose residents are overwhelmingly people of color — live under the poverty line, according to census figures. And roughly half of households are considered "cost-burdened," meaning families spend at least 30% of their income on rent or mortgage payments.
But recent years have brought progress. A planned $7 million overhaul of the 927 W. Broadway building, including an $800,000 loan from the city, would turn the dilapidated commercial property into the new headquarters for the Jay & Rose Phillips Family Foundation. And talk of potentially rerouting the proposed Bottineau light rail line along Broadway has given some cause for optimism.
Proponents of Minneapolis' "Safety for All" plan say that it will tackle the underlying causes of crime, while beginning to undo the harm done by decades of overaggressive policing in Black and Latino neighborhoods. Some see Broadway and Lyndale as a testing ground, because despite its reputation for violence, police are most often called to deal with complaints of public drinking, gambling, drug use and other petty offenses, which don't always require an armed response.
Instead, other professionals, who don't carry guns, could contact the people who hang out on the corner and connect them with services and other assistance. If someone were caught selling or buying drugs, they wouldn't necessarily be arrested; instead, they might be referred to a diversion program that keeps them out of jail as long as they get treatment for their substance abuse.
They would connect gang members with programs to help them get mental health counseling, education or drug and alcohol treatment. Or they might help them obtain stable housing, a major hurdle for people coming out of prison.
Inspector Charlie Adams, who recently took over the police precinct that includes the area, said he plans to sit down with elected officials and community leaders to come up with a plan to address the crime problem at Broadway and Lyndale. But, he said, his main priority is to address the high number of shootings at the intersection. Budget cuts and a wave of officer departures in the wake of Floyd's death left the patrol force short-staffed, he said.
"Whatever they've got I'm going to support and give them the opportunity, but I still can't have what happened up there last summer, I really can't," Adams said in a recent interview. "If that means coming in with more people I'm going to do that."
Manu Lewis, an outreach worker who previously worked with the group violence initiative, said city officials need to listen to the people who are already doing the work of crime prevention in neighborhoods blighted by poverty and neglect.
"They put a lot of emphasis on the [violence] interrupters piece, but I think that when people adopt a system of operating on values and not just checking boxes and counting numbers, then the shift will start," he said.