Among the flowers and messages of remembrance placed by friends of Joseph Sodd III near the place of his death was John Donne’s poem Death Be Not Proud, written in chalk on the brick pavers along 19th Avenue South. Underlined twice were the words “our best men,” and underlined once: “desperate men.”
Written much larger next to the poem was the message that many shared in the days after Sodd died: “We love you Joe.”
The 20-year-old dancer was fatally stabbed in the early morning of June 18, the victim of an apparent robbery in the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood. The killing was the second in nearly as many months; the April 11 murder of 18-year-old Abdullahi Abdi is still unsolved, and police had made no arrests in the Sodd case by press time.
Both crimes occurred within a block of each other, and both in low-traffic areas within a block of Cedar Avenue. Both claimed the lives of individuals that friends, family and community members remember as promising young men. And together, the violent murders have neighbors and community members frightened, vowing action and seeking answers.
‘An open, generous human being’
Joe Sodd III was a talented and vibrant young man, according to those who knew him. Sodd had many ties to Bridge-area neighborhoods: he grew up in the Cooper neighborhood, where his family lives; he worked at The Craftsman restaurant not far from his home; and he attended Marcy Open School and South High School before spending his senior year fostering his talent for dance at the Perpich Center for Arts Education.
Prospect Park resident Mary Harding teaches dance at Perpich, and while she “loved Joe like I love all my students,” she said Sodd was special. The two stayed in contact after his graduation in 2005. The summer after his first year of college, the tap-dance-specialist took Harding out to dinner at The Craftsman to thank her for introducing him to modern dance and the Cornish College of the Arts in Seattle, from which he would have graduated. “He even babysat my kids,” she said. “I feel very attached to the [Sodd] family.”
“He was an amazingly hard worker, he had a great performance quality,” she said. “He was generous in his life … [and] that transferred into the dance studio and onto the stage.” Harding noted his wonderful sense of humor and said, “as a performer, he was very present in the moment, and I feel like that’s how he was in his life. He was totally present.”
Jay Scoggin taught and directed Sodd even earlier at Marcy Open School, and, like Harding, he stayed in touch with Sodd, who returned later to help choreograph Scoggin’s productions.
“Joe defined intense,” said Scoggin. “When he went after things, he went after them with everything he had, whether it was verbally or onstage. He was great to argue with, great to debate with, great to question. He was the kind of student you hope for.
“It’s so random and senseless,” said Scoggin of the attack. That day, he was on his way to be with Sodd’s family.
In an interview with the StarTribune, Sodd’s father, Joseph Sodd, Jr., spoke of forgiveness. “I’m not angry,” he said, asking “Do you think my son would want that?” (The Bridge offered, through friends of the family, to interview family members, but we did not contact them directly in the few days between his death, the funeral and press time.)
In those first days of mourning, Harding said she couldn’t talk about how Sodd died. “I’m devastated,” she said. “I just can’t access that right now.”
A memorial ceremony was held June 22 at Augsburg College, and a scholarship benefit took place later that day at the Triple Rock Social Club, 629 Cedar Ave. Those who would like to contribute to the Joseph Sodd III Memorial Scholarship Fund may do so at the PCAE Foundation, PO Box 5086, St. Cloud, MN 56302.
‘A long hot summer’
For members of the Cedar-Riverside community, the tragedy was all too familiar, after the fatal shooting of Abdi on April 11. The more recent Sodd murder left nearby residents frightened and community leaders talking, yet again, about the need to improve public safety.
Kadrah Farah, who lives a block from the murder scene, said her sister lives even closer, on that very block, and walks home from work late at night. “It’s scary,” said Farah, who had walked down the block to see the sidewalk memorial. “I don’t know what’s going to happen when I walk in the middle of the night.”
Farah said that, last year, a neighbor was held up at gunpoint. The police were called but never showed up, she claims. “Sometimes I think the police don’t care about the neighborhood, the people here,” she said. Other times, immigrants especially don’t want to call the police. “I think they should call, but the police should show the people they can trust them and not be scared of them,” said Farah.
Another man who lives just feet from the crime scene (he declined to give his name) said he’s moving out after living for six years in the neighborhood. “I’m scared to go out at night,” he said, citing not only the murder but the armed robbery, just days before, of another neighbor. Three men “stuck a gun in his car,” he said. (MPD crimes maps for the week beginning June 10 do show a robbery of person in that exact location.)
Police are examining robberies and other incidents in the area for possible connections, said William Palmer, public information officer for the Minneapolis Police Department (MPD), as well as talking with neighborhood residents, business owners and street cops about the activities they’ve observed in the area — “essentially, who’s doing what over there,” Palmer stated in an email response.
Even before the Abdi murder two months ago, the West Bank Community Coalition’s Crime and Safety Committee had identified the main stretch of Cedar Avenue — as well as less trafficked side streets and alleys, like where the two murders occurred — as hot spots in need of public safety improvements like lighting and increased police presence.
Two members of that committee said part of the concern is an increase in loitering.
“I’ve felt like the pace has picked up around here in terms of young men hanging out on the street with nothing to do except get into trouble,” said David Alderson, a safety committee member. “I’ve been trying to rally everybody to say, ‘let’s get on his now because it’s going to be a long hot summer,’ and it’s sure panning out to be that way.”
The safety committee began twice-weekly walking groups — on Tuesday and Friday nights — during the last week of June, and both Alderson and Safety Committee Chair Russom Solomon said an effort has been made to contact business owners about the need to call police, and to start a fund to hire off-duty cops in the problem areas — a strategy that Solomon noted has worked Downtown.
The Cedar-Riverside Business Association has started a crime task force, as well, said Alderson. “We are organizing, and we will do what we can to see that these violent crimes cease and desist,” he said, adding that the community will work with police, universities and property owners “to have a concerted effort to clean up the problems in this neighborhood.
“This is a part of town that’s been neglected for years by the city of Minneapolis,” he said. “I’m not blaming anyone in particular, but there’s been a lack of investment in this neighborhood, and it shows.”
Two murders, no arrests
The recent murder may well exacerbate the frustration some in the community have voiced about the fact that no one has been arrested in the Abdi case, now more than two months old. There have been rumors and secondhand accounts floating in the community about the motive behind the murder, as well as assertions that some know who the killers are.
Solomon acknowledged the frustration but cautioned against drawing conclusions. “Different parties claim different things,” he said. He acknowledged the presence of Somali gangs, also confirmed by a recent MPD report showing a dramatic increase in the number of assaults and robberies “perpetrated by Somali suspects” between 2006 and 2007. While that report also showed that many of the perpetrators lived in South Minneapolis, including Cedar-Riverside, others still echo MPD claims that much of the crime on the West Bank is committed by outsiders.
Palmer said that the MPD has had cooperation from community members in the Abdi investigation, but that “there appears to be disparity between the accounts traded among people and those provide to investigators.”
Police are asking for anyone who was in the area of 19th Avenue and Seventh Street around the time of Sodd’s murder, and who might have seen anything related to it, to call police at 612-673-2941. As for the older Abdi case, Palmer said, “We’re investigating and looking for evidence sufficient to prove that the murder was committed by a particular person.”
Solomon said he doesn’t doubt that police are doing what they can, “but people get frustrated because they expect certain things,” he said. “What people hear on the streets and the actual thing [police] go through to do this work is different. Everything takes time.”