Violence town hall covered familiar ground

By Charles Hallman
Staff Writer

The causes are many, the cure unclear

Violence in North Minneapolis has been on a steady rise over the past several years. A report on this violence recently made public offers some sobering numbers:

According to Minneapolis police figures, 47 percent of the city’s homicides in 2006 took place on the North Side, an area made of 15 communities that comprise nearly 20 percent of the city’s population. There were 40 percent more homicides that year than in 2001.

Over half (56 percent) of the homicide victims recorded in 2006 were Black; 48 percent of the perpetrators also were Black. Furthermore, 11 of the 60 homicide victims and 11 perpetrators were juveniles, a triple increase from 2005.

All of the juvenile suspects and half of the young victims had prior run-ins with the law.

These facts led NorthPoint Health and Wellness Center, which is located in the heart of the North Side, and the University of Minnesota’s Institute on Domestic Violence in The African American Community (IDVAAC) to team up and study the multi-faceted and complex factors that often lead to violence.

The report’s findings were presented October 30 during a two-hour town hall meeting at Shiloh Temple Church on West Broadway attended by around 300 people.

The 19-page North Minneapolis Community Violence Report didn’t break any new ground on the topic, but rather reaffirmed what many in the audience and others elsewhere already believe: Violence negatively impacts the quality of life of community residents, not only the victim but also the victim’s family members.

And the perpetrator’s family “is also grieving,” noted Mary Johnson, whose only son was killed almost two decades ago.

Some never forget, said NorthPoint CEO Stella Whitney-West; her organization and Shiloh Temple were among the event sponsors. Her younger brother died years ago because of violence in Oakland, Calif., and whoever committed the crime still is at large, she reports.

“There is no single cause of violence in urban America, but multiple causes,” explained Indiana University Associate Criminal Justice Professor William Oliver. He joined Chicago State University Psychology Professor Esther Jenkins, IDVAAC Co-founder and Executive Director Oliver Williams, and Associate Director Marcus Pope, all of whom worked on the report and presented its key points at last week’s meeting.

They also participated in a community panel discussion on violence with Johnson and the others. “Violence prevention begins in the community,” Oliver told the audience. “We as a community have to be in the forefront of violence prevention.”

“The majority of violent crime is committed by a small number of offenders,” noted Jenkins, who also works with Black children and youth on mental health concerns in Chicago. She pointed out that violent behaviors in individuals often begins when they are very young and gets worse as they grow older.

The report also noted that several “risk factors” play a part in community violence. The more risk factors such as low parental involvement, not succeeding in school, peer relationships, poverty, and exposure to community and domestic violence, the more likely violence will occur, said Jenkins, adding, “There are many factors that add up to a bad outcome.”

“We need to understand the risk factors in North Minneapolis,” stressed Williams, a social work professor at the University of Minnesota.

Shiloh Temple Bishop Richard Howell suggested that the rise in violence could be partially attributed to the community no longer valuing the importance of church. “We have two or three generations deep of people who don’t know what church is,” he said.

“I think there is so much pain in North Minneapolis, but it’s turning into hate,” said Oshea Israel, who was charged and convicted for killing Johnson’s son. He and Johnson, who founded a support group for victims” and perpetrators’ families, now speak to groups together on the impact of violence and how to prevent it. “I’m trying to make a difference on the North Side,” said Israel.

Among the report’s recommendations are: establishing a community-wide violence prevention coalition, increasing public awareness on the impact of violence, and developing culturally relevant school- and community-based conflict resolution programs for young people in grades K-12.

“I feel schools play, and should play, a pivotal role” in the community to help curb violence, said Robbinsdale Cooper High School Principal Michael Favor.

Yet, “We can’t depend on public agencies or public officials to lead the effort,” said Oliver.

Zion Baptist Church Pastor Rev. Brian Herron said there are several churches such as his and Shiloh Temple that are willing to work with community organizations to address the violence issue. “The church has to come outside our walls and get involved,” Herron said.

“Will something come of this? I hope so,” said Jenkins when asked how Saturday’s event differed from previous town hall meetings on community violence, or what their report added to previous published reports.

Whitney-West said NorthPoint is committed to help end community violence, which she believes should be treated just like any other health concern.

“We are planning on this being a sustainable effort. This is an ongoing issue.”

“Hopefully we will sustain it with some good follow-up,” Herron said.

“I think the responsibility is on us [at IDVAAC] and NorthPoint to see what we can do to move some of the recommendations in the report forward,” added Pope.

The community also must work with police and other law enforcement officials in addressing the violence issue, said Oliver. “We need law enforcement, but the right type of law enforcement. We don’t need them to stop every kid because he looks like he just jumped out of a video.”

The full report can be found on NorthPoint’s website: www.northpointhealth.org, or call 612-593-2556 to request a copy sent to your home.

Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to challman@spokesman-recorder.com.