Last Friday night a growing coalition of women and community members gathered at the intersection of Logan & Lowry Avenue North for the first in a series of events that aim to support violence prevention and offer healing for families experiencing collective trauma in North Minneapolis. Herbal tea, art, soul food, free organic produce, and an outdoor showing of Coming to America attracted 20-30 people to the vacant lot across the street from Full Stop Gas station.
“All these kids keep getting shot in my neighborhood, I can’t even let my son go to the store without being worried constantly,” said Roxxanne O’Brien one of the organizers of the event. O’Brien, a vocal activist and community organizer, said she spent the past few months planning with Black women from the community and women who have lost loved ones to gun violence. Their plan: go directly to hotspots where shootings keep happening to offer connection and practical resources.
“This event is purposefully late at night because we're operating during hours where there's usually gunshots. Our goal is to provide activity to distract or to take away from violence, to provide activities that people can spend time in, instead of shooting each other,” said Hawwa Youngmark, a member of the Juxtaposition Arts’ tactical team--one of the many groups that helped organize It Takes A Village. During the event, Youngmark sat on a blanket and gave away free books featuring Black characters as part of her “I See Me” book drive. For Youngmark, the urgency to participate hit close to home.
“In this week alone 10 people in my neighborhood have been shot,” said Youngwood. “A few weeks ago, my sister called me in fear because someone was shot dead in front of our house and she wanted to make sure I was okay, and I was. But I'm afraid of the day when I won't be okay, or when she won't be okay. So, the killing needs to stop.”
According to MPD data, violent crimes in the city of Minneapolis are on the rise. Data from the Minnesota Department of Public Safety’s Bureau of Criminal Apprehension indicate homicides are already outpacing similar upticks the city experienced in 2017 and 2015. A need to better contextualize data related to violent crime in the city was one of many points made by Chief Medaria Arradondo during a presentation he gave at a September 15 study session city council held. The department, which still operates within the over $190 million dollar budget it receives, is the source of complicated frustrations from some Minneapolis residents, some council members told the chief their constituents are saying police aren’t responding to local crime intentionally.
“I think it’s possible they are essentially campaigning either politically because they don’t support council members or in some cases, the mayor, or perhaps they think they are making the case for more resources for the department. I can tell you in my ward, it is having the opposite effect, it is making people more frustrated with the department,” said council president Lisa Bender during the study session. Bender represents Ward 10 which includes the East Harriet, ECCO, Lowry Hill East, South Uptown and Whittier neighborhoods.
Fourth Ward council member Phillipe Cunningham said from a public health lens, the risk factors and preventions for violence are already known and an informed overhaul of the current system is one strategy towards addressing structural violence—the inequitable distribution of resources such as housing stability, healthcare, and livable employment options.
“If we build out a comprehensive system of community safety that has prevention, intervention and re-entry, we are taking the burden off of police officers for having to respond to everything,” said Cunningham during the session.
Cunningham chairs the city’s public health and safety committee. Last week the committee approved Minneapolis’ Office of Violence Prevention’s community engagement timeline. The first phase of the office’s engagement starts this October. The office will invite community members across the city to give direct feedback on policing, public health-oriented violence prevention, and changes the city should consider regarding public safety. The feedback informs a resolution council members made after George Floyd’s murder to create new structures for how the city of Minneapolis addresses public safety.
“Communicating and building relationships and building trust is a pathway for us to heal to continue to build capacity, to sustain what we’re building to thrive,” said multidisciplinary artist and community healer Amoke Kubat. Kubat’s Yo Mama’s House also contributed to Friday’s event.
As the event meandered, neighbor children played in the growing darkness while activists and advocates took to the mic to share resources and words of affirmation. Before Coming to America started flickering from a pop-up projector, a couple walked over to the young man fixing everyone to-go boxes of greens and cornbread. An older man crouched down in the grass to recite original poetry as someone on the mic announced Diamond Reynolds, the girlfriend of Philando Castile, was in the crowd. On that block, on that night, there were no shootings.