Minneapolis Parks has been ranked as the best park system in the country for six of the past seven years. But best parks for whom? At Peavey Park in South Minneapolis, with its Thrones Plaza, crack is still king and the local folk keep their distance.
For decades, Peavey Park has maintained a deadly stronghold, degrading the quality of life in an otherwise pleasant community. At the infamous intersection of Chicago and Franklin avenues, crack zombies loom in full force during the summer, and intermittently all winter.
At the park’s entrance stands Throne Plaza – dedicated as a tribute to African American culture with a plaque inscribed with a poem by Twin Cities’ luminary Louis Alemahyu. Today, it has become a debased, living testament to subhuman subsistence.
Mothers from just a block over at Project for Pride in Living refuse to set foot in the park with their children. Come sundown, activity picks up there – it seems it is safest to do one’s dirt in the dark, and it’s best decent folk be indoors.
On 12th street, a homeowner who spoke on condition of anonymity said he and his wife find getting a good night’s sleep to be a fruitless undertaking. Police patrols come by on Franklin and denizens scuttle down side streets like roaches getting away from Raid.
“They run through the backyard, into the bushes, knocking things over [and] making noise all night. Sometimes, we actually hear them having sex. My wife hates that.” It’s not uncommon, he noted, to come across used prophylactics on the lawn. “You have to clean up their mess.”
At Franklin and 11th, a manager at Roger Beck Florist, who also declined to be identified, acknowledged seeing crack smoked at the Metro Transit bus shelter near a neighboring shop entrance. This, and three other shelters, are the base of operations, concentrated at Thrones Plaza, which serves as the hub. Bus riders must simply stand to the side.
“[This matters] to all of us who work at Metro Transit,” said Metro Transit spokesperson Howie Padilla. “Take into mind the operators, the people that’ve put those shelters there, and take into mind the riders who use the system.
“The shelters are there for a reason. If we take them away because people are doing these things [using drugs], we’re putting families out in the rain who are using our services to get to work, get to the doctor.”
He added that patrons can assist law enforcement without drawing offenders’ attention by utilizing the recently devised Text For Safety Program. “We don’t want people to put themselves in danger by calling and making it obvious. That way we can get police out there. If Metro Transit Police can’t get there, maybe one of our partners, maybe the Minneapolis Police Department, can.”
Padilla continued, “Everything we do has got to be about people. This is our transit system. It belongs to the City of Minneapolis. We’re all responsible for it to get [riders] as efficiently and safely as they can to where they need to go.
“If we’re not doing that, what’re we doing? It belongs to the community, and we’re all part of the community.”
Why the continued crime?
For decades, open-market substance abuse and prostitution once flourished just down Chicago in the Elliot Park neighborhood until gentrification changed things. Dilapidated housing gave way to East Village Apartments, and North Central College turned Lee’s Liquor Store into a gift shop. Just like that, drug problem solved.
What’s the difference at Peavey Park?
Seven summers ago, the public caught a break. On July 26, 2011, Minneapolis’ finest swept Thrones Plaza clean, along with the surrounding area. Squad cars filled parking lots; arrests were made left and right.
Then-precinct commander Inspector Lucy Gerold credited MPD’s identifying chief offenders and coordinating with Park Police and Transit Police, as well as undercover and uniformed officers. It was like the difference between day and night. Unfortunately, the sun has long set on that clean-up effort, and night has come again to Peavey Park.
According to the present commander, Inspector Michael Sullivan, the police aren’t sitting on their hands these days. He indicated the troubled area is indeed is on the department’s radar, and said enforcement measures were stepped up at the beginning of the summer.
“We don’t want only to hit the park. Our focus zone covers from Portland to 11th, down to 25th Street,” said Sullivan.
That certainly would be the target area. There are, he states, monthly community meetings and, of course, cops patrolling in cars, on foot as well as undercover. The gang unit, weapons unit, and SAFE Team have collaborated on seriously decreasing violence in Little Earth, he added.
“That’s definitely one of [the many] tools we’ll be using throughout the neighborhoods experiencing nuisance and street crime.”
Another key tactic at this zone is surveillance. “We utilize the public safety cameras a lot with our community response team, which is kind of like our own precinct level narcotics unit. [The cameras] have been very valuable to us on a daily basis. We’ve made numerous arrests.” Without which arrests, evidently, the situation would be still worse.
District 3 Parks Commissioner Abdikadir Hassan is looking at ways to better engage and bring the community back to the park. “We are planning to have activities that will bring families to Peavey Park.
“I’ve been talking to [organizations] in the neighborhood. I want to make sure that I’m not just coming up with a plan that’s not going to work for people.”
This problem desperately demands a solution beyond more family activities. Lightning struck in July 2011. What keeps it from striking again?
And the glaring question stands: Why, if gentrification didn’t make all the difference in the world, was widespread drug traffic wiped out less than a mile away in gentrified Elliot Park, yet remains entrenched and enthroned here, in Peavey Park.
This article appears in the July 5-11, 2018, issue of publication. Subscribe Now!