St. Paul laid yet another young victim of gun violence to rest Saturday — the same afternoon hundreds of concerned residents gathered to find solutions to end the bloodshed.
Da'Qwan Jones-Morris, 17, was accidentally shot to death Nov. 6 in his own home by two friends playing with a stolen firearm. Police suspect that the teen who pulled the trigger had the gun in his possession for nearly a week.
"If someone had just spoken up," Mayor Melvin Carter recalled Jones-Morris' mother telling him at Friday's wake, "my son would still be here."
"That's a heartbreaking thing to hear," Carter told a packed gymnasium at Arlington Hills Community Center for his third and final community forum about the city's near record-breaking homicides this year.
Community members huddled around dozens of tables to brainstorm ways to curb the violence in their own neighborhoods. Sometimes that meant dissecting how the city had gotten here in the first place.
Many lamented that people feel disconnected from their community because they no longer know their neighbors.
"If they knew you and your children, they'd look out for you and your children," said Pam James, a longtime city resident. "We're all living in silos."
Residents rattled off ideas and demands, including for more ShotSpotter technology to help detect gunfire, increased policing, firearm safety classes, extended school hours and a youth advisory board to the mayor.
The diverse roundtables forced groups to navigate difficult conversations about race, class and poverty — issues that Carter says must be addressed to have an honest dialogue about public safety. Theresa Neal, a retired high school principal, considers that a silver lining.
"What seems to be a dark cloud hanging over us actually gives us an opportunity to talk," she said.
Joann Ellis earnestly asked her tablemates if she should attend memorials to try and engage youth who are directly affected by the gun violence.
"I'm a 63-year-old white woman with gray hair," said Ellis, who lives in the Frost Lake neighborhood. "I don't know how I fit into the solution because of what I look like."
The moderator at her table agreed that her idea was a good start. "Sometimes you just have to let other people know you care," Ellis said. "That's what I need to do."
Meanwhile, Judy Davis reflected on how the pace of recent shootings has made her numb to the problem. "I was appalled at myself for ... not feeling empathetic emotion," she said.
The mayor roamed table to table, listening to suggestions that he promises to bring back to City Hall, where he'll submit a supplemental public safety proposal for the 2020 budget.
"We want to meet the urgency of this moment with investment to end these cycles," Carter told reporters. "It's going to be a long weekend for our team synthesizing what we've heard — not just today, but at all three conversations."
He hopes to have that in the hands of City Council members by the end of the month.
Liz Sawyer • 612-673-4648