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OPINION | St. Paul: How do we stop the shootings in Dayton's Bluff?
November’s Forum contained an article about two more shootings in Dayton’s Bluff; an anonymous writer asked how to stop them. I don’t have the whole solution, but I’d like to suggest where to begin.
A memorial was created on the corner of Wakefield and Cypress in late October to commemorate the birthday of Aung Thu Bo, who was murdered by a “Craigslist” killer on August 10.
Let’s first make sure we understand the situation. The St. Paul Police Department issues weekly crime statistics. These are prepared for the District Councils and are available on the SPPD website and via e-mail from our community organizer Karin DuPaul. They are also published in the East Side Review. These statistics are incomplete, sanitized, and difficult to interpret, but they are better than nothing.
I’ve been reading the crime statistics each week, but it wasn’t until I started to compile data for this article that I realized how serious the gun situation is here. From January 1 to November 5 of this year, there have been 94 reports of gunshots, 30 reports of someone getting shot, 11 armed street robberies, one armed convenience store robbery, and two homicides. The numbers were similar in 2011, with one less murder. It should be noted that gunshot reports don’t reveal how many shots were actually fired. It is often more than one.
Contrary to what some people might believe, these gun-related crimes don’t happen only late at night to “bad” people in certain parts of the neighborhood. It’s true that some of these gun crimes are concentrated in very specific areas but they certainly aren’t confined to just a few places.
Many of these gun-related crimes, including the two homicides, took place in the middle of the day. One of them, the so-called “Craigslist” murder near Wakefield and Cypress, occurred in what I thought was a fairly safe area, approximately 800 feet from my front door. After looking through the police reports, I discovered how wrong I was. There have been many shots fired, armed robberies, and actual shootings within walking distance of my house. I knew about most of them, but the sheer number hadn’t registered with me.
Here is an example of one shooting of which I have firsthand knowledge. The police report merely stated that gunshots had been fired on March 27 at 11:05 am near 5th and Forest Streets. But there are more details. This incident happened on a Tuesday morning in front of St. John’s Catholic Church. I was inside at the time, attending the funeral Mass of one of our former pastors. The Archbishop was celebrating Mass and the church was nearly full. At least four gunshots were clearly heard inside the church. Had this happened a half hour later, the street would have been full of people. As is, one of the parishioners later found the back window of his car shot out. Two schools were in session within two blocks of where the shots were fired. And yet there was never a word of this reported anywhere in the media.
Why don’t we get more information about crime in the neighborhood? It may be an effort to keep the “bad stuff” hidden so Dayton’s Bluff doesn’t get a bad reputation. Well, it’s too late. The secret is out. I can personally attest to the fact that people know it and stay away.
Even in this communication age, it’s not easy to get the word out. There was a time when any shooting was big news because it was a rare event. That is not the case today. The news media isn’t interested unless there is a murder. The Pioneer Press no longer has dedicated crime reporters. It barely covers any local news. TV and radio stations don’t have the airtime to do much even if they were so inclined.
The Internet, with its nearly infinite capacity, is no better. The main media websites have no more information than their print or broadcast counterparts. Individual blogs, discussion groups, Facebook pages, etc. frequently deal with drivel. Perhaps we need a good, coordinated online source of crime information.
So we need to get the word out about what’s really happening in Dayton's Bluff. But we can’t stop the shootings ourselves. I hate to say it, but memorials, ribbons on trees, block club meetings, National Night Out events, home and garden tours, and community meetings aren’t going to do the trick. These are very worthwhile activities but they’ve been going on for years, and gun-related crime is steadily increasing.
So what to we do? We ask for help. We pay taxes and we elect people to represent us. They have access to law enforcement organizations at the city, county, state and national level that have been dealing with problems like these since the days of the Wild West. But for some reason they aren’t doing much around here. Why? I’m not sure but from the people I’ve contacted I can tell you they have plenty of excuses. We should not accept them.
I want to make it clear I am not referring to the police officers on the streets. They are doing a great job under very dangerous conditions as the tragic events of October 23 illustrated. That was the day one officer was shot and the police killed two criminals on the east side of St. Paul. My only complaint is that there aren’t more police out there.
In summary: If we want to stop the gun violence in Dayton’s Bluff, we must acknowledge the magnitude of the problem, make sure it’s not kept a secret, and appeal for help to those designated by society to handle such problems. If we are ignored or just fed a bunch of lame excuses we’ll have to try harder. And then when the shootings have been stopped we’ll tackle the rest of the crime in Dayton’s Bluff.
Greg Cosimini is a longtime Dayton’s Bluff resident.
© 2012 Dayton's Bluff District Forum