Nine hours of bloodshed in St. Paul last week left three men dead, a 15-year-old and an adult charged with murder, and a community divided over how to respond to this latest wave of gun violence.
Some are rallying behind the increased citywide police presence announced by the mayor and chief on Tuesday.
“We need justice. We need law and order,” said Don Kloek, owner of Ace Auto Parts a few blocks from where one of the three fatal shootings occurred. “The police are there to help and improve people’s lives.”
Others are hosting neighborhood healing circles, talking about the root causes of poverty and violence and cautioning against heavy-handed law enforcement tactics that they say historically have caused “collateral damage” in communities of color.
“This is a community problem and we need a community solution,” Nathaniel Khaliq, former president of the St. Paul chapter of the NAACP, said at a Tuesday news conference. “We don’t want to go back to a police state where the criminal justice system is all infested in our community. We would lose all the work of the Black Lives Matter movement.”
The shootings happened amid intense debate among city leaders and the community over whether to cut five police officer positions from the 2020 budget, and whether to invest in pricey technology that alerts police when shots are fired in the city. Across the river, Minneapolis leaders are also grappling with whether to expand their police force.
St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter has suggested scaling back the nine new officer positions he proposed last year to four, noting the Police Department budget would still increase by $4.5 million — much of that going to cost-of-living raises for the remaining 630 sworn officers.
In a statement Friday, Carter thanked police and acknowledged the trauma suffered by the victims’ families and the community.
“Over the past 10 days, we have experienced an unusual and unacceptable string of homicides and gun crimes in our city,” Carter said. “Tonight, my heart is with every family impacted by these violent acts. Putting an end to these cycles of violence is our highest priority.”
The bloodshed started Monday and stretched across three of St. Paul’s most racially and ethnically diverse neighborhoods.
On Monday afternoon, Raumez Ross, 18, was shot while walking along Rice Street in the North End neighborhood. He died in a corner store as first responders tried to save him. A 15-year-old boy has been charged in his death.
Javier Sanmiguel, 31, was shot and killed around 10 p.m. Monday while trying to render aid after witnessing a car crash in front of his home in the Payne-Phalen neighborhood. Sanmiguel was married with four young children. Lionel Keejuan Eaton, 27, has been charged with his murder.
Early Tuesday, Nickey Taylor, 27, was a passenger in a car when he was fatally shot as occupants in another vehicle opened fire in the Frogtown neighborhood. Taylor’s companions drove him to Regions Hospital, where he was pronounced dead. No arrests have been made.
The three deaths raised St. Paul’s homicide total for 2019 to 19. Of those victims, 17 were shot, according to police. Police Chief Todd Axtell called the wave of violence “unprecedented” in his 30 years with the department and rolled out a series of immediate actions.
Five additional officers are now patrolling each shift. Investigators are pivoting to gun violence cases, and reserve officers and St. Paul’s Law Enforcement Career Path Academy students are knocking on doors, handing out fliers and speaking with residents.
“It’s an all-hands-on-deck moment for the Police Department,” said spokesman Steve Linders. “The goal is to be seen and to restore a sense of security.”
Even before the shootings last week, Axtell had pushed the council and mayor for more officers to improve emergency response times.
That’s exactly what’s needed, said Gidget Bailey, owner of Tin Cup’s bar and restaurant on Rice Street.
“More police on the streets. Simple. We want more boots on the ground,” said Bailey, who has been critical of efforts to reduce the number of police officers.
Down the street from Tin Cup’s, nearly 50 community members, including Carter and Ramsey County Commissioner Trista MatasCastillo, came together for Ramsey County Public Health’s first-ever “Healing Streets” gathering.
Residents and elected leaders filled Real Life Yoga & Coffee, set some ground rules about confidentiality and then poured their hearts out, MatasCastillo said.
“We talked about how people were feeling. We talked about what people think we need in the community and the neighborhood,” MatasCastillo said. “There was a call for resources. Nobody called for more police presence, but it was not an anti-police gathering.”
Community activist John Thompson said it’s right that elected officials are pumping the brakes on plans to add officers.
“Police are not the answer — the fix-all — to every problem that exists in the community,” said Thompson, who rose to prominence after speaking out after the death of his friend Philando Castile, who was shot by a St. Anthony police officer during a 2016 traffic stop.
“It’s going to take us to fix the problems. When I say us, I mean black people,” Thompson said.
On Friday afternoon, Nancy Larrabee and her 15-month-old daughter Vera greeted a St. Paul police reserve officer walking the neighborhood near Rice Street.
Larrabee said she appreciates the additional police patrols and door knocking, but thinks it’s the people who live there who will improve conditions in her neighborhood.
Larrabee, who recently bought a home in the North End with her husband, said they’re doing their part: meeting neighbors, making connections with local business owners, painting over graffiti and planting flowers.
“We have to come together after bad things happen,” she said.
Council Member Dai Thao, whose ward includes the Frogtown neighborhood, said in an interview Tuesday that the city’s response to violence shouldn’t be an either-or proposition. He said he wants the city to invest in technology to track shots fired as they happen and doesn’t think it’s a good time to cut police officer positions, but he also wants to talk about what causes crime.
“We have to tackle the root,” Thao said. “By the time people are hurting each other, it’s because they’ve been so hurt. They’ve been so desperate.”
Staff writer James Walsh contributed to this report. firstname.lastname@example.org • 651-925-5037 email@example.com • 612-673-4509