Surreal is the single word that best described the muggy Thursday afternoon. Framed by the barrage of gunshots, and the now cordoned off rush hour West Broadway Avenue, and framed by the sound of news helicopters swooping low over the avenue and by a sea of police blue, scores of North Minneapolis residents and workers stood in knots of four to five, again asking, “Why?”
Marcus White, 19, a neighborhood young man and former North High student, collapsed dead in a hail of gunfire. Witnesses said a man in a Mohawk haircut aimed point blank at White, firing several rounds, killing White in cold blood. The killer also shot White’s companion, who was taken to North Memorial Hospital, but whose wound was not life threatening.
Police officers on the scene told people who asked, the murder appeared to be the result of a specific interaction or conflict between the people involved. The shooting, they said, was not part of anything bigger like a retribution situation, but was nonetheless a regrettable, senseless crime. The officers’ comments anticipated bystanders’ efforts to evaluate whether there was a connection between this murder, and that of Brian Cole, who was killed nearby last month on Juneteenth Day.
Cole and White, only slightly apart in age, both played basketball in school and community teams. White, like Cole, was also an extremely popular young man, a leader among his peers, respected by adults and young children in his family and in the community. White was a volunteer staffer for the Northside Peace Games inaugural season last year. His positive contribution of energy, hard work, and connectedness was hoped for this year as well.
Said Michelle Martin, executive director of the PEACE Foundation, “This news is particularly devastating to me because Marcus was a PEACE Games youth worker last year, hired to recruit basketball teams and help run the games. He was a diligent and committed worker who was trying to navigate a positive course for his future. He talked to me about the challenge of standing up for a future in the midst of the chaos of the street and the lack of opportunities for a kid like him.
“During the PEACE Games, when the competition finals for basketball were in jeopardy of being cancelled due to an incident that occurred after a semi-final game, Marcus was a vocal advocate that the games continue. At a
critical decision-making meeting of partners, Marcus pleaded, ‘I’ve worked hard to make this happen. Please let us finish what we started. We need something positive.’ His voice was heard, the decision to continue was made, and we held the final games without incident.
“Though I didn’t know him well, his presence during the PEACE Games last summer had been a sign of hope to me. “
Officers amiably and reassuringly worked the crowd, answering questions, consoling, taking notes, talking to the press. One woman asked was there any truth to a rumor that the assailant had kidnapped the infant child of the wounded woman. Officers assured her that no child was missing and that no child had been kidnapped.
The woman’s child was in the safe custody of relatives, they said.
At a press conference July 16, State Representative Keith Ellison, the DFL endorsed candidate for U. S. House of Representatives for Minnesota’s 5th Congressional District, joined by Fifth Ward City Council Member Don Samuels, said the escalation in gun violence in Minneapolis and across the nation is evidence of the need for changing federal policies that allow access to guns without the accountability.
Ellison said he supported the McCain-Feingold legislative proposals that required registration of guns sold at gun shows, as well as those sold by licensed retail gun businesses. Most guns sold in stores require registration and in many cases, registration includes a background check and waiting period.
People buy guns directly from other people who are operating and gun enthusiasts and collectors at networks of trade shows all across the nation, Ellison said. Those sales need the same or greater scrutiny and the accountability that gun registration and background check require, he said.
Ellison blasted Republican foot-dragging on enacting strong gun registration laws that might have prevented or diminished access to the gun by Marcus White’s killer.
He said American communities and urban neighborhoods in particular are being left high and dry by wrong-headed federal policy that allocates more than $10 billion per month to fight a war in Iraq, but cuts the $1 billion a year that had been allocated to add police officers to the streets in cities like Minneapolis and St. Paul.
The “Clinton Cops” funding, as the spending for local public safety hires authorized by former president Bill Clinton was called, meant more than 80 additional officers could have been on the streets in Minneapolis. Overall, he said, the Minneapolis Police Department is down by about 400 officers due to federal and state funding cuts.
Samuels also placed White’s murder in a bigger context. He said it now seems our community is bent on killing its best and brightest. Our kids are not fighting against Iraqi or Iranian enemies, he said. “We are doing it to ourselves.”
VJ Smith, founder of MADDADS, an advocacy organization, focused on violence prevention and reduction. He said these murders reflect a new cowardice in and among some of our young people. He said it takes courage to talk, to argue, to reason and resolve conflict. Cowards don’t have the courage to talk. They terminate, he said.
Smith said black men must step forward and connect with young men and women who need guidance for their sake and for the sake of our community.