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Reaction to a Shooting at Juneteenth

July 2, 2008


Letters to the Editor
NorthNews
1620 Central Ave. N.E.  #101
Minneapolis, MN  55413


Dear Editor:


There was a shooting at Juneteenth this year and the festival had to be cut short. You ran an article quoting community leaders.  One was “saddened” by the whole affair.  Another thought that the community should come together to “rush to save” the young men who perpetrated this violence; it was a “primal scream” for help.  Still another thought those people were “clowns” and “knuckleheads”.

What good is all this talk?  Not much.  We have a serious crime problem in Minneapolis.  When community leaders make statements that make themselves look good instead of pointing to solutions, we know that not much will change.

Almost a year ago, Hennepin County Commissioner Mike Opat was robbed at gunpoint in front of his Robbinsdale home.  A similar event occurred several weeks ago involving state representative Willie Dominguez.  When the random acts of violence hit elected officials, we know that the crime problem in our city is widespread and real.

The issue is not whether Juneteenth should continue.  It’s whether crime will continue at its present level of intensity.  To abate the problem, we need active crime-fighting strategies.  Two strategies make sense to me:  (1) public efforts to make young people feel wanted and to give them a positive role in those critical teenage years before they engage in criminal acts, and (2) meaningful punishment - that means incarceration in many cases - for persons who engage in serious or repeat criminal acts.

Knowledgeable observers of this community say that today’s young people do not have places to go, they do not have organized activities available to them, as young people had in previous years.  And the city is doing all it can to minimize those opportunities.

Where do young people “hang out”? They hang out in parks, in stores and shopping malls, on street corners, etc.  One place where they used to hang out was in a convenience store at the corner of Sheridan and Plymouth named “Uncle Bill’s Food Market”.  The city got the building condemned on trumped-up charges a year ago and this “hang out” is no longer available.  
City officials claim a great victory over crime in this and other situations.

Yet, in the case of Uncle Bill’s, as a City Pages article pointed out, an undercover agent patrolling the store for 45 days was unable to find evidence of wrongdoing.  A judge would not give the city permission to revoke the store owner’s license for that reason.  So the city went after the  building finding “structural deficiencies” that allegedly made it unsafe although the same inspectors a year earlier had signed off on the building’s condition.

It is actions such as these which erode confidence in government.  If crime was such a problem at Uncle Bill’s, Big Stop, and other convenience stores, why did not the police hang out there and make some arrests?  City officials said they knew where the criminals were.  As fishermen effectively fish the “hot spots”, so the police should be able effectively to identify and arrest people who are violating the law in known criminal hot spots.  But the city preferred to go after the building.  That made some other party responsible.

In short, we need more places where young people, on this side of the law, can “hang out” without being harassed or shooed away.  I think the public parks need to stay open for longer hours and use of the facilities should be free.  Even if this exposes the parks to a greater chance of criminal activity, there’s no use in maintaining those facilities if people - especially the young people at risk - do not use them.  We need then to cultivate a private-sector mentality of attracting customers.  Try to engage the “customers” on their own terms rather than on terms that suit the convenience of people who run the facilities.

The second part is that some people do willfully and repeatedly break the law and engage in violent acts.  These people need to face certain, effective punishment. When we hear of criminals being arrested and released numerous times, we get the idea that there’s a breakdown in the criminal justice system with public officials and their retinue caring less about the safety of people in certain neighborhoods than about political considerations.

Does responsibility for this breakdown lie primarily with the police? Prosecutors?  The courts?  The corrections system? Or all of them?  Perhaps there’s not enough prison space.  Someone with overriding authority, perhaps the Governor, needs to take charge and coordinate the various agencies of government into a coherent crime-fighting program.  But there’s been instead a failure of leadership.  What we get is mostly talk.  

However, if we talk about solutions instead of emoting after the fact, it would be a good start. Maybe your next crime-related article should be about that.

Sincerely,

 

William McGaughey

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