Community leaders respond to violence

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After Minneapolis experienced a marked decline of homicides in 2009, it isn’t doing so well in 2010.  The murder of teenager Alisha Neeley on 35th and Humboldt on the North Side as she was coming home from a party on Friday marked the 10th murder  in Minneapolis this year. 


City officials and community leaders have responded by saying that more needs to be done with violence prevention, including supporting organizations that help youth stay in school, and with working with neighborhood groups to be forthright in reporting crimes.


Church responses


Efrem Smith, Senior Pastor at Sanctuary Covenant Church, said that families in his community have been impacted by the violence. The church is organizing a march on Wednesday to bring the community together, beginning at 6:30 at Sanctuary Covenant Church (1201 37th Ave. N, Mpls).  The march will travel down Fremont to Humboldt where the murder took place.  “We’re going to do a prayer walk to the place of the shooting. And then do some prayer there,” Smith said.


In addition, the church, along with the partnering Sanctuary Covenant Development Corporation, continues its work with after school programs to engage young people with nonviolent strategies. Some of those strategies include “providing a forum for young people to talk about and express the challenges they are facing in their lives,” Smith said. “If young people aren’t given a healthy non violent forum in life, they see the only way of dealing with tensions is violence.”


The after school programs include a hip hop worship experience, where students can express themselves through dance, spoken word, and rap, and a forum where students can “share their pain and struggles,” Smith said. “There are too many young people feeling neglected and hurt and they don’t know how to deal with that in a healthy nonviolent way.”


Focus on education and economics


Andre Dukes is a Pastor of Community Affairs at Shiloh Temple and is the Director for the Northside Achievement Zone (NAZ), an initiative developed by the Peace Foundation, where he engages families with opportunities for educational success for children and young adults. The goal of NAZ, according to Dukes, is to eliminate the achievement gap between white students and students of color, and to make sure that all children and teenagers are supported so that they will stay in school and achieve academically and in life.


Dukes said that a lot of violent behavior is attributed to economic factors, which can lead to a lack of parent involvement and a lack opportunities. NAZ is committed to providing support for young people so they will achieve success.


In response to the recent murders in Minneapolis, Dukes said: “We never expect that there will be another murder. We always hope for the best. Do we think the potential for murders has been eliminated? By no means.”


Dukes said the recent violence reminds leaders the work they are doing needs to be done with more intensity because “the lives of our children literally depend on it.” He said there need to be more options for the children besides the streets, and that the community needs to come together as volunteers, mentors, tutors, and positive role models.


“I think that in a tragedy like this,” Dukes said, “it’s important that we not get over anxious but that we do pay more attention to what our children are telling us. Children will tell you how they feel by how they act.” The children’s actions speak for them, and “We need to pay attention to how young people are feeling,” Dukes said. “They are angry.”


Dukes also urged people to understand that the violence only represents a small fraction of the overall community. “We only hear about these negative acts,” Dukes said. We are not lifting up the positive things enough… It’s important that we really keep it in perspective. There are a lot of good people in North Minneapolis- law abiding citizens that contribute to society.”


Michelle Martin from the Peace Foundation said that the recent violent episodes don’t change her organization’s strategy to “promote educational achievement as permanent antidote to violence.”  She said that the Peace Foundation and the NAZ will continue to take a multi-layered approach to narrow the achievement gap, which she believes is “the root of violence.”


North Minneapolis fights stigma


Michael K. Browne, a board member at the Jordan Area Community Council (JACC), said that the community was very concerned about the recent rise in violence.  “It looks like it’s going to  be more violent year,” he said. “And spring tends to be more active.”  Browne said JACC’s  public safety committee will be active with hearing people’s concerns.


Vladimir Monroe, chair of the board at JACC, said that while he was concerned about the violence, he was also very concerned with the negative publicity it brings to the North Side. “Any time something happens in North Minneapolis, all the North Minneapolis neighborhoods suffer,” he said. “The North Side has been so stigmatized, that anytime anything occurs, it casts a bad light over all the neighborhoods.”


“Look,” Monroe said. “You are not calling me because we are doing cleanup events.” He said the residents of Jordan want the resale values of their homes to be as high as possible. “Crime doesn’t help with that,” he said.


Samuels, Rybak: Focus on enforcement, investigation


For City Council Member Don Samuels, whose ward is located on the North Side, the recent events serve as a reminder to keep vigilant.  “We were doing were doing pretty good there,” he said. “but you got to always be adjusting. We’re stepping up patrols and trouble spots.” Samuels said the police are trying to appeal to the community to be cooperative in all these cases, urging them not be intimidated or “vengeful enough not to share whatever information they have.”


Samuels said that leaders are continuing to refer youth to services at the first sign of trouble. “There’s some gang stuff that’s peeking its head up,” he said. “It’s a new generation of gangs.”


One of the solutions, Samuels said, is to get more cops in the schools, and cops in the street. “We want to make sure they don’t fall through the cracks.” The city also recently passed a new fine schedule, which will fine people for blight and problem properties. “Those things may not seem like they are related, but they are,” he said.


Samuels said he had no doubt that the violence is at least partially economically driven. “Economy is leading to psychic stress,” he said. “We need to increase vigilance on what’s already working.”


Mayor R.T. Rybak issued a press statement urging teenagers who attended the party that Alisha Neeley attended before she was killed (50 to 100 people) to call 1-866-SPEAK-UP or the Minneapolis Police Department tip line at 612-692-TIPS. Rybak also said the city’s police department is working closely with community leaders and outreach workers on prevention strategies. MPD has also directed increased uniform patrols in North Minneapolis and increased patrols in Juvenile Division, Special Operations, Intelligence and Gang Units “in order to aggressively enforce any criminal behavior to curb additional violence,” the press release states.


Youth Violence Intervention Program – medical model


Last month, the City of Minneapolis, along with Hennepin County, Hennepin County Medical Center and North Memorial Medical Center, announced a new program called the Minneapolis Youth Violence Intervention Program (MY-VIP) – a hospital-based initiative designed to identify, address and intervene in the lives of youth violence victims who come to HCMC, according to the mayor’s press release. Nearly 40 organizations, including MAD DADS, Youth Link, Urban Youth Conservation, Holding Forth the Word of Life Church and Salaam Project have signed on with the initiative.