At least 275 people have been victims of gunfire in Minneapolis so far this year, eclipsing the entire annual totals of all but two of the past 10 years, according to Police Department records.
Gun violence tends to spike in the city every year during the hot summer months, but this year’s surge in shootings dating back to the unrest after the death of George Floyd is worse than usual.
MPD records show that 269 people were shot in Minneapolis in all of 2019 — a grim milestone that the city reached on July 20 this year. The shooting tally is also nearly 60% higher than the five-year average for this time of the year, records show.
The city’s 37 homicides have also nearly doubled from this time last year.
Victims were mostly concentrated in the Fourth and Third precincts. They included a 14-year-old girl who was grazed by a wayward bullet while she lay in bed and a taxi driver who was killed when he confronted two men breaking into his cab.
The recent upswing in violence has factored into a fierce debate over the future of policing in Minneapolis, as elsewhere, sparked by Floyd’s death and the ensuing riots: Some law enforcement groups and their supporters have cited the spiking gun violence as reminiscent of the “Murderapolis” era of the mid-90s, while activists argue that the recent bloodshed is proof that the existing public safety system isn’t working.
On Friday, the City Council adopted a revised 2020 budget that cuts roughly $1.5 million from the MPD’s $193 million budget — most of which was to be diverted to the Office of Violence Prevention, which may use the money to fund a program patterned after the Cure Violence program that uses trusted “messengers” to mediate street conflicts and persuade high-risk youth to take a different path.
Meanwhile, police officials and community leaders have been searching for solutions to the problem.
Around the time of the unrest, the department combined several investigative units to form the Gun Violence Response Unit, which is focused on getting weapons off the streets and applying pressure on gangs that authorities say are driving most of the violence. The strategy has paid off in some ways, with court filings showing that authorities are close to solving several recent shootings, including the June 21 running gun battle in Uptown in which more than 70 rounds were fired and 11 people were injured. Investigators have identified at least one of the suspected gunmen involved, a member of the FreeShotz gang, thanks to an informant’s tip. Police say they are also on track to top last year’s total of 946 recovered guns.
Department brass have reshuffled staff to beef up the patrol division, although some in the department argue those efforts have fallen short of covering all the staffing gaps created by recent departures.
Police Chief Medario Arradondo and Mayor Jacob Frey have sought help dealing with the crime spike from federal law enforcement agencies including the FBI, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and the Secret Service.
Kyle Loven, a former FBI agent, said in an earlier interview that it’s not uncommon for “local police chiefs and sheriffs” to partner with the feds, who can add considerable manpower and crime-fighting technology.
“The FBI has a lot of technology at its disposal that it can bring to bear to assist local departments,” said Loven, who left the bureau after 22 years to join a Minneapolis-based digital forensics firm.
Some activist groups on Friday expressed their disappointment that the proposed cuts fell far short of the $45 million they had sought.
“With our communities facing a pandemic, an economic crisis, and an unreformable police department, we demanded a major budget cut from MPD, and funding to meet our communities basic needs. The Mayor and the Council need to move much, much faster on their commitments to transformative change. Justice cannot wait another year,” Sheila Nezhad of Reclaim the Block said in a news release.
Community groups such as Racial Justice Network and Communities United Against Police Brutality have accused the council of acting hastily and recklessly in announcing their desire for abolition, without offering any specific plan on how to deal with the violence that continues to affect poor, ethnically diverse neighborhoods.
Statistics show that the 275 shooting victims through Thursday are higher than any other yearly total over the past decade, with the exception of 2017 and 2016, when 280 and 341 people were shot, respectively. The most recent year for which comprehensive data were available was 2006, when the city logged 339 shootings.
Other cities have experienced a similar rise in shootings, notably Chicago and New York. Nationally, the COVID-19 pandemic has had an uneven effect on crime, although several large cities have seen upticks in violence since the unrest that followed Floyd’s death.
Some criminologists say the causes are unchanged — inadequate housing, systemic racism, poverty and other forms of neglect, coupled with a seemingly bottomless supply of illegal firearms. Adding to that combustible mixture is the pandemic and the unrest following Floyd’s death, they say.
Additionally, authorities say that violent crime tends to escalate around this time of the year, not only because warmer weather is drawing more people outside, but because the summer months have so many death anniversaries of slain high-profile gang members.
Many of the victims have been young Black males, such as Elijah Whitner, 20, who was gunned down July 10 near Farview Park in a shooting that also left his pregnant girlfriend seriously injured.
In another example, a 17-year-old boy was shot outside a South Side convenience store Thursday, blocks from the Floyd memorial site, after what police say was a struggle with a longtime rival.
Jamar Nelson had left the store minutes earlier and was driving past when he saw the boy lying on the ground and stopped to help, thinking at first that he may have overdosed. But as he got closer, he noticed the blood pooling around the body and immediately started to perform CPR with the help of a bystander. Nelson said the boy briefly regained consciousness but ended up dying in his arms before paramedics arrived.
Nelson, who is part of the street outreach group A Mother’s Love, recounted the episode tearfully Friday, saying that the boy reminded him of his own son who is about the same age.
“That was somebody’s baby, and at that point, he was my baby, you know, holding that boy,” he said. “I had to call my son, and he said, ‘I’m at work and I can’t talk right now,’ and I said, ‘I just wanted to tell you that I love you.’ ”