For this, even God would have to wait.
Black churches throughout the Twin Cities canceled Wednesday night prayer services for the first time so pastors could engage elected leaders and police on ways to curb record-breaking levels of gun violence in St. Paul.
"We'd love to be here for something more positive, but this issue should demand all of our attention," the Rev. James Thomas said during a packed community forum at Mount Olivet Baptist Church in St. Paul.
From behind the lectern, Thomas began the evening by asking more than 200 residents how many personally know someone who's been shot. One-third of the room put hands in the air.
"How many of you have been to a vigil or funeral of someone who's died by violence?" More hands.
"Brothers and sisters, that's the reason we're here tonight," Thomas said, "to say that this must end."
The meeting, hosted by the Black Ministerial Alliance and the St. Paul NAACP, gathered local, state and federal law enforcement officials to discuss the ongoing "a public health crisis" plaguing the capital city.
Just 24 hours earlier, a man was gunned down outside a Frogtown convenience store less than half a mile from the church. It marked the third homicide of the new year — continuing a spate of gunfire that typically slows during the cold winter months.
"I guarantee you the person who pulled the trigger shouldn't have been in possession of that gun," said Police Chief Todd Axtell.
He attributed last year's 25-year high in homicides to the number of young people with access to firearms, often used to settle petty disputes.
Crime prevention will require a multifaceted approach, Axtell said, including better community relations with police. He urged residents to ignore the so-called "no-snitching" policy and have the courage to contact authorities.
And in return, Axtell pledged to build a department that better reflects the city's changing demographics. Before he retires in a few years, he hopes half his police force will be officers of color.
Later that evening, a written Q&A session reopened the contentious debate over whether to invest in ShotSpotter, an issue that's caused division between Mayor Melvin Carter and his chief. Carter declined to include funding in his 2020 budget for the system, instead funneling $1.7 million toward youth employment and outreach, recreation center programs and streetscape improvements.
Even after a private meeting last month with ShotSpotter CEO Ralph Clark he remained unswayed. Carter believes ShotSpotter is effective at pinpointing where gunshots are fired, but he is deeply skeptical that it would ultimately reduce gun violence in his city.
On Wednesday night, Carter vowed to never institute "knee-jerk" solutions.
"When we spend $1 million on public safety, it has to make us safer," he said.
But fellow panelists didn't appear to share those views. Axtell, Department of Public Safety Commissioner John Harrington and Anders Folk from the U.S. Attorney's Office each praised the technology as a critical investigative tool.
Ramsey County Sheriff Bob Fletcher grabbed the mic and gently pushed back on the mayor, saying that officers often spend precious moments searching for evidence of a shooting — and sometimes they never find it.
"We're driving around for five, 10 minutes trying to find these darn casings," Fletcher said. "ShotSpotter helps us get there faster. ... Is it worth the money? I believe it is."
Liz Sawyer • 612-673-4648