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Opinion editor's note: Editorials represent the opinions of the Star Tribune Editorial Board, which operates independently from the newsroom.


Chalk up a big win in the effort to combat violent crime in Minneapolis.

On Wednesday, federal and local authorities announced that 45 members or associates of major street gangs had been charged with crimes that include seven homicides and numerous drug and firearms offenses. All but two of those suspects are in custody.

That number of arrests, if convictions follow, will significantly reduce the number of shootings and other violent crimes that have plagued the city in recent years. With an estimated several hundred active gang members in the city, taking this many off the street simultaneously also should send a much-needed message to others involved.

On Wednesday, charges were brought against members of the Highs gang, based in north Minneapolis, and the Bloods, from the city's South Side. Charges are coming against members of a third gang, the Lows from a different part of north Minneapolis, according to U.S. Attorney Andrew Luger.

"Today's announcement marks a fundamental change in how we address gang violence. Starting with these charges, we are prosecuting street gangs as the criminal organizations they are," Luger said.

Luger recently told Star Tribune Editorial Board members that gang activity is responsible for much of the street crime — especially shootings — in Minneapolis.

He noted during that meeting, and again Wednesday, that for the first time prosecutors are using federal racketeering laws to go after Minneapolis gangs allegedly linked to offenses including murder, gun crimes, robberies and conspiracy to sell illegal drugs. The federal statute, known as the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, or RICO, was first used in the 1970s against organized crime families in other cities. It requires federal involvement and approval.

To prosecute under RICO, authorities must prove that the gangs are criminal enterprises and that members have committed crimes for the benefit of their gangs. Gang members can then be prosecuted together instead of in a piecemeal way. Authorities said RICO convictions can result in more substantial penalties, including life in prison for those who commit murder.

Sasha Cotton, a former Minneapolis Office of Violence Prevention director, told the Editorial Board that authorities are also working on preventing violence by continuing to use the group violence intervention strategy. Under GVI, they meet with known gang members, their associates and those at high risk for joining. Cotton, a St. Paul native, directed Minneapolis GVI efforts for several years and is now doing similar work nationally in her position at John Jay College in New York.

In a GVI meeting, authorities can offer resources to help gang members safely leave their gangs. But if the gang members don't, as Wednesday's charges show, they'll face the full force of the law under RICO and other statutes.

It's important to note that violent crime is down in Minneapolis year-over-year but still at levels not seen before the pandemic. This isn't the crime-ridden disaster that some claim, but anti-crime efforts are still critical. This past fall, Mayor Jacob Frey called violent crime the "paramount issue" in the city as he and his new community safety commissioner, Cedric Alexander, announced a multijurisdictional "Operation Endeavor" to combat it.

The current Minneapolis crime dashboard shows that so far in 2023, robberies, carjackings and gunplay are all down from last year but still at unacceptably high levels. At the same time, homicide numbers, while down from last year at this time, are running far ahead of 2019 and 2020 levels. Sex offenses are also up and auto theft is epidemic, as it is across the country.

The extraordinary effort led by Luger that produced Wednesday's charges is a strong signal to Minnesotans — and to Minneapolis gangs — that those in the business of crime will not be allowed to continue threatening the city's future.