Kids hanging out… drunks loitering in the streets … slum landlords … drug dealing in broad daylight…jaywalking… pre-teens stealing a skateboard from a fenced in yard. Joyce Krizinac has seen it all in her neighborhood on the East Side of Saint Paul. A long time resident of the community, Krizinac says, “ I’ve seen an increase in ‘riff raff’, for lack of a better term.”
Fed up with the deterioration of their neighborhood, some residents have joined forces with ACORN (Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now) to clean up the neighborhood. Shortly after ACORN started organizing residents, Antonio Evans was shot to death the afternoon of Monday, June 9. According to Krizinac, the murder was the catalyst that fired up the neighbors to come together in an all-out attempt to drive out the crime that has infested the area. Evans was killed in an apartment building at 430 Case Avenue, across the street from Bruce Vento Elementary School.
Paul Dillon, Lead Organizer for Minnesota ACORN, says that residents were calling him as the shooting [of Evans] was taking place. Residents also reported to him that they found gun casings at the intersection of Case and Burr near the apartment building. According to Dillon, that intersection has been a problem for some time due in part to “the extraordinary amount of loitering” around the Burr Street Deli .
At a meeting the night after Evans was killed, residents decided they would hold a rally to kick-off a summer-long “community patrol” to discourage the drug sales, the loitering, and the thefts that are rampant throughout that part of the East Side. Krizinac and Billie Jean Campbell co-chair ACORN’s East Side chapter. Campbell says, “Tuesday night we came together and decided we needed to do something…this is our neighborhood and we won’t tolerate violence in any form.”
The Payne Phalen District 5 Planning Council has been working long-term with residents in the area and Leslie McMurray, Executive Director of District 5, says, “We did the walk around the neighborhood with ACORN.” While there is no formal partnership between District 5 and the ACORN group, McMurray says, “We’ll continue to be there” to support the residents.
Dillon says it was especially significant that the Saint Paul Police Department joined the residents for the rally and march that night. He says, “ We ended up getting a police patrol at Case and Burr. We’re counting that as a victory and looking forward to a summer with a good partnership.” In addition, management at the deli agreed to put up a “No loitering ” sign. That sign allows police to arrest anyone who is found loitering on the property.
Meanwhile, District 5 plans to do neighborhood walks four nights during the week of June 23. McMurray says they will encourage residents to join them for the walks. Participants will be given a trash bag to pick up litter as they go. McMurray says the hope is, “By going out four nights in a row, we’ll get people to take ownership and take back the neighborhood.”
“The whole East Side is sliding downhill,” Krizinac says. “As a homeowner, I want to stay, I’m not going to be run out. The community patrols are a good way to get the word out to residents. People are fed up with the murders and the drug houses.” She emphasizes the importance of taking down license plate numbers and calling the police when unlawful activity is taking place. She says that the goal of the East Side ACORN group is to get yard signs to everybody. The signs will read “ACORN, We support the police, Call the police.”
On Friday, June 20, residents marched again. Enroute to ACORN’s national convention in Detroit, nearly 100 people got off the buses to participate. They were East Side convention goers joined in a show of solidarity by fellow ACORN members from the Northside of Minneapolis as they walked through the neighborhood with residents picking up trash along the way.
For the residents of the East Side, the summer community patrols signify the importance they place on safe streets and neighborhoods for themselves, especially the children, and they stress the importance of even more residents becoming involved and engaged in their community.
“If more people show they’re not afraid,” Krizinac says, “we won’t have all of this. Everyone is influenced by it.”
Krizinac says all residents are welcome to attend the next meeting of the East Side ACORN group, scheduled for Thursday, June 26 at 6:30 p.m. at Wilder Recreation Center, 958 Jessie Street.
As she prepared to head to the convention in Detroit, Campbell said, “Last Friday, the Saint Paul Police Department demonstrated their commitment to support East Side residents concerned about their safety. Tonight we are thanking our local police officers for their commitment to us and demonstrating the power of our own continued commitment to a cleaner and safer neighborhood.”
Mary Thoemke, a lifelong resident of St. Paul, lives in the North End neighborhood. Now working as a freelance writer, Mary is retired from the St. Paul Public Schools. She also served as editor of the North End News, a community newspaper.