As spring approaches in a confusing mix of temperatures, I recall winters in Minnesota as a kid — the shoveling of sidewalks for money, the snowball fights and sledding until my skin went numb with snowdrifts up past my knees.
As I wrapped up the outdoor obligations on our home last fall, I readied my soul and mind for a much-needed hibernation. Since moving to north Minneapolis in 2008, I have lost some of my enjoyment for the warmer seasons. I had always been passionate about fall, with its pop of color and flannel-friendly temperatures, but winter has become a fervent contender.
Now, along with the first snowfall each year comes anticipation of a lull in the pops and ratta-tat-tats that normally pepper the air here. And while the rest of the city enjoyed a string of unseasonably warm days well into late fall, the Police Department’s weekly reports of shots fired had us riddled in a discouraging cluster of red dots.
With each of the weekly updates, then and now, I am forced to recall the many times I have been urged to move — every well-meaning comment a nudge closer to my throwing up my hands and moving to anywhere but here.
But then I remember the faces of my neighbors who are fighting this uphill battle with me, and I try not to get lost in the easier solution.
While the media are blitzed with angry accusations and protests about black men and women dying at the hands of police, our reality (in addition to the Jamar Clarks and Philando Castiles) is civilian violence and urban warfare. However, our moral decay locally is apparently not sensational enough to fuel the media feeding frenzy that a one-off police brutality case can harness.
As the news media attempt to coddle us and as the throngs of protesters march, I recount our losses:
On May 4, 2016, two weeks after my last commentary appeared on these pages (“Open your eyes to our North Side nightmare,” April 21, 2016), we were outside the Fourth Precinct station as gunfire erupted between rival gangs on 16th and Newton Avenues N.
Four dozen rounds left one dead and six wounded, bullets bursting like firecrackers in rapid succession. As emergency vehicles raced by, fellow activist K.G. Wilson and I headed to the chaotic scene to provide community support.
Welcomed by the floodlights of first responders, I watched as the wounded were loaded into waiting ambulances. Amid a cluster of worried neighbors, a woman stood with a toddler on her hip as a news crew jockeyed for position. In the crowd I spotted a young boy of maybe 9 or 10, staring alternately at the crime scene and his shoes. Concerned, I asked if he was OK, and without making eye contact, he replied with a shrug and an unconvincing nod.
A few houses down, a woman shared her harrowing experience of how she had just gotten her children inside when the gunfire erupted. Shaken, on the verge of tears, she accepted a hug and some comforting words.
In the days that followed, I would see this woman again, walking out of her way to get home, avoiding the corner where the young man had died.
The following day, May 5, the violence seemed relentless as another stray bullet found its way into the bedroom wall of a 10-year-old girl. While wrapped in the safety of her own bed, she took a bullet to the foot.
On May 26, I learned of the tragic death of Birdell Beeks. Birdell had lived a few houses down from me when I first bought my home. Nice lady, always entertaining a group of grandkids and neighborhood children while she sat out on her front steps. The bullet that ended her life was fired as she sat in her minivan with her granddaughter, caught in the crossfire between rival gangs while waiting at a stop sign.
Eight hours later, a nearby neighbor was shot in the face as he opened his front door; one bullet broke his cheekbone. Our friend’s rental property took the other nine rounds.
On June 2, during an exchange of gunfire, bullets landed willy-nilly in the windows and trim of local businesses at Broadway and Irving Avenue N. Pastor Yolande Herron-Palmore (the sister of an old friend, Pastor Brian Herron) was here visiting from Houston when one of those bullets veered off-course and went through the window of the beauty salon where she was seated. A few inches to the side could have cost this woman her life.
On June 16, I was awakened around midnight by a mother’s heart-wrenching cries and the unmistakable flash of police lights lighting up the ceiling of our home. I stepped out into a sea of 50-plus people to learn of Travis Washington’s death; he had been shot 10 times while at home, over a petty dispute. We consoled his family in those early morning hours, my wife bringing ice water to his mother, who by then had calmed down enough to talk. The following day, we brought flowers, a card and our condolences — which seemed inept, considering the family’s loss. They had only just buried Travis’ brother Kirk Washington Jr. two months earlier after he was killed in a car crash.
On July 8, I would learn of yet another homicide and then attend the vigil of Le’Vonte “King Jason” Jones — a 2-year-old who died from a gunshot wound to the chest. Le’Vonte sat strapped in the car seat of his family’s minivan, one of two vehicles involved in a rolling shootout at approximately 11 a.m. His sister, 15-month-old Melia Jones, suffered a gunshot wound to the leg.
The spring and summer months had me attending more vigils for young men I did not know and walking with fellow activists and neighbors in marches calling for an end to the violence.
Instead, our voices were met with the tragic loss of Crystal Collins — another unintended target, shot and killed outside her family home on July 16. She left behind three teenage daughters and many close friends who we watched grieve.
Three days into August, a young man was approached by a vehicle while riding his bicycle to a friend’s house; he was shot and killed. On Aug. 7, again in broad daylight, two men were shot at the corner market on 36th and Penn. One of those victims, the husband of a family friend, survived after taking a bullet to the stomach while at work that day.
Aug. 11, 12 and 13 brought more bloodshed. A man waiting at the bus stop on Dowling and Fremont lost part of his nose after being hit in a crossfire. Another man was gunned down and left to die curbside at 29th and Morgan. Then back near the Fourth Precinct, while enjoying a family barbecue, five people suffered injuries from yet another North Side shooting.
On Aug. 26, as we wrapped up an extremely violent month, a woman took a bullet in the back near 33rd and Penn Avenue N. She was one block from Lucy Laney School, which was hosting an open house for parents and students when she was shot.
September experienced a hint of calm, but on the 17th, a woman was grazed by a bullet on Broadway at Penn Avenue N. Then, on Oct. 28, we lost yet another neighbor, Dana Logan. Having just dropped off her niece, she was shot and killed while sitting in her idling SUV. The vehicle was relocated to the end of our block and remained hauntingly undriven for days after her death.
A memorial with wilted Mylar balloons and weathered teddy bears still adorns a tree four blocks from our home where Logan was murdered.
It is one memorial among many you will find if you tour the area.
On Nov. 16, a man was killed and left like a snuffed-out cigarette in the muddied grass at a popular North Side strip mall. Then, in late December, another young man, home from college on a visit, was shot and killed in an alley not far from his family’s home off 43rd and Humboldt.
I think back over these traumatic days on the city’s North Side, trying to piece them together in order, all while well aware that I am missing many of the names of those lost last year.
And while hard work was indeed applied to bring some of these families closure, a starving man’s ration of such cases never gets solved in a “snitches-get-stitches” environment.
To those who harbor the ones committing these atrocities, as well as to those guilty of these crimes, I say: You are destroying your community. Equally, when I continue to hear things like “This type of violence will not be tolerated in any part of this city” from city officials, I am underwhelmed and bereft of faith.
This is yet another safe and media-friendly response, extended to us like a political pat on the head. It is not honest or forthright to those of us experiencing life-threatening violence day in and day out.
We are privy to the fact that if the gun battles, beatdowns and knife fights weren’t seeping into our Super Bowl-friendly “safe and vibrant downtown,” few outside north Minneapolis would even know a smattering of what we contend with as normal.
And as another local election approaches, mayoral candidates, City Council incumbents and hopefuls, many of whom are largely out of touch with our reality and needs, begin their sales pitches to the masses for a starry-eyed, better tomorrow.
Meanwhile, here on the North Side, we stand shellshocked as our Fire Department is haphazardly put in charge of crime scene cleanup, armed with little more than fire hoses and Homer buckets to chase the remains of our loved ones down the storm sewer. In north Minneapolis, we brace for spring as one awaits an approaching storm. In our reality, hollow points fly more often than hollow promises are kept.
With a chaotic new year well underway, my friend Phillip Murphy posted an emotional live feed on social media within minutes of another shooting, at Fremont and Dowling, Wednesday evening, March 8. It left four wounded in a flurry of bullets that ripped through the setting sun. And even with a chill in the air and a multitude of officers not 200 feet away at the first crime scene, more gunfire (a witness counted of 14 shots) erupted in the alleyway at Dowling and Girard just after 8 p.m.
So these broken-record responses aren’t getting the job done. We need more than coddling and political correctness from our local government. We need consistent and firm resolve.
People are dying, our neighborhood is still in dire need of help, and your feigned concern is simply not enough.
Mickey Cook is a community activist and homeowner in north Minneapolis.