Minneapolis’ crack plague over the past two decades has decreased in ravaging the landscape between Elliot Park and Phillips Neighborhood’s southern edge. What was an open-air drug market along Chicago Avenue has closed to a stretch on Franklin Avenue from Chicago to Portland avenues — stubbornly thriving, an eyesore of dealers, customers and hookers doing a hide-and-seek dodge with the Minneapolis Police Department (MPD).
Peavey Park, a two-by-two-block expanse, is ground zero, Crack Central, where criminal conduct, including assaults and gunfire, hold out in an entrenched last stand.
During daylight, squad cars sit in shifts at the crest of a small hill and street traffic vanishes. No sooner do they roll off than it returns, en masse, sharing the park with kids using the community center playground. Evenings, with anyone violating the curfew being subject to arrest, activity moves to the sidewalk, intermittently, according to police presence.
One community member spoke on tape on condition of anonymity: “I am so upset about all this violence and all the drug dealers around this neighborhood. I have two daughters, 12 and nine. They’re not allowed to go to Peavey Park. They don’t understand that. So, they get upset with me. I’m tired of [it]. I’ve seen people getting beat up [and] all the dealers serving dope fiends. I’m fed up. I think somebody really needs to do something about it. It’s ridiculous.
“When I’m [at home] with my daughter, if we’re sitting, watching television, [I’m scared] it’s going to be another Tyesha Edwards case [In 2002, the 11-year old girl was killed by a gang member’s stray bullet as she sat in her dining room at her home on Chicago Avenue near 35th Street]… Bullets have no name, no face. I feel bad. I’m scared. I’m looking for a place to get out of here.”
The afternoon of July 26, all hell broke loose in the area. You couldn’t swing a dead cat without hitting a cop car or seeing somebody detained or hauled off in handcuffs. MPD Third Precinct Commander Inspector Lucy Gerold states, “Proactive [law enforcement] in and around Peavey Park is up 49 percent year to date…in and around Peavey Park. We [will] continue enforcement.”
Over the years, crack traffic ceased virtually overnight each time gentrification and upscale commerce developed. At Elliot Park, dilapidated buildings were torn down to make way for East Village apartments. East of Franklin Avenue to 14th Avenue, there is a mini-mall that houses Maria’s Café.
What’s different about Peavey Park? A common criticism is that’s not where big money’s being spent. Gerold retorts, “That is scapegoating. Areas ‘owned’ by good people doing constructive things can’t be ‘owned’ by criminal activity.
There [must] be a critical mass of good productive activity along with enforcing the law. Economic development and safety go hand in hand. Areas with strong constructive activity that don’t tolerate crime, along with good policing, are safe.”
Minneapolis City Council Vice-President Robert Lilligren adds, “It cannot ever be the sole responsibility of the police to build a safer community. That responsibility belongs to us all.”
Both say block associations, residents getting together to hash over community concerns, helps. Gerold attests, “[It] brings people together. People get to know their neighbors, who belongs and who doesn’t belong. They call 911 when they see suspicious activity. Criminals flourish where people don’t [get involved in community safety].”
Lilligren concurs, “Neighborhood organizations are fundamental to keeping communities safe. I live in a Lake Street area once known as ‘Crack Alley.’ A few neighbors and I went door-to-door to meet our neighbors [seeking] support from businesses, organizations and the [MPD]. Absent these efforts, it is unlikely that the area would have improved. Crime ebbs and flows. But, we are empowered to address it.”
MSR interviewed a member of a block association adjacent to Peavey Park. Having been threatened after reporting a crime, she declines to be identified. Call her Kay. “We thought we needed to bond as neighbors. You don’t want to be afraid to go outside, scared to walk around. My little girl likes to jump on the couch and look out the window, I don’t know if, one day, a stray bullet’s going to hit her.”
The married mother of two stresses that communicating with the police department is key. And yields results. “We’ve seen positive changes. I appreciate that.”
Part of that communication, she acknowledges, is MPD training. “They kind of share how to have your block come together. And deal with issues.” Minneapolis Police Department’s Crime Prevention Manual, a detailed 50-page document, advises citizens how to organize and sustain successful block associations, entities that have done something about leading decent lives versus dangerous circumstance.
Kay emphatically states, “I really feel block clubs are essential to building community and reducing crime in our neighborhoods. It promotes unity. You don’t feel you’re so alone with your concerns. I don’t feel, now, that if something happens to me or just one person on the block, that it’s not only their problem or my problem. It’s our problem. If one is affected, we’re all affected.”
She takes a minute to look out from her kitchen window at Peavey Park, then reflects, “We need neighbors talking with each other, helping each other and looking out for each other. It doesn’t hurt to have fun together, too. With things like cook-outs, movie night when we can sit outdoors, watch, for instance, Jurassic Park, and have a nice time.”
True enough, wholesome, good old-fashioned, family-friendly activities in public view stake out territory of which unsavory types tend to steer clear. Like vampires avoid garlic and a crucifix, they’d much rather gravitate where it’s less likely someone will call the cops.
Kay sums up, “It’s not just about solving crime. It’s about building community.”
Dwight Hobbes welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.
To comment on this story, see comment box below.