Peavey Park progress: Community activism, cops help reduce crime—By Dwight Hobbes, Contributing Writer

On Sundays, there’s a giveaway of free surplus supermarket food at Peavey Park. -Photo by Dwight Hobbes

“Is the Peavey Park area being left to wallow in crime?” asked the MSR in the August 4-10 issue. This week, Dwight Hobbes continues to seek answers to that question and the issues of crime and quality-of-life in the South Minneapolis neighborhood where the park is located. Minneapolis Police Department struck the long-lived, drug-dealing stronghold in South Minneapolis’ Peavey Park with a lightning bolt on August 3. In an afternoon, the infamous intersection of Chicago and Franklin Avenues transformed from an open-air crack cocaine market to a family-friendly environment, which local residents who were scared to go near the spot now safely frequent.

The area has, for years, been a scourge, prompting one to ask, “Why it took so long?” It didn’t happen soon enough for Francine Nolan, who moved from her Elliot Park apartment in mid-September, fretting for herself and her children. “It’s a day late and a dollar short for me. Besides, it’s like spraying roaches. These drug dealers and their customers and these nasty lookin’ [prostitutes] go away for a while, and then just come right back.”

There is evidence such concerns have, timely or not, been dealt with definitely. As of late September, no resurgence as occurred. Two months and counting, there is a conspicuous absence in blatantly illicit activity. How did the clean-up happen? Inspector Lucy Gerold, Third Precinct commander, attributes it to the MPD identifying chief offenders and coordinating with Park Police and Transit Police as well as the work of both undercover and uniformed officers. Also, there’s surveillance of problem properties with a high number of comings and goings at all times of the day and night, including vacant buildings, “honeycombs” where the indigent go to get high and prostitutes take “tricks.”

Inspector Gerold also credits follow-up on criminal cases by city and county attorneys as well as communication with and actionable information from citizens. At the Thrones Plaza corner of Peavey Park, Ventura Village Neighborhood Organization has held since late July a community forum, “The Amen Corner,” inviting the public to participate in an open mic of spoken word, music and simply speaking one’s mind. People show up and speak their peace in an atmosphere not conducive to selling or buying drugs. Coinciding with the August police action, it has helped to turn things around, giving the area a vastly improved image on Thursday and Friday afternoons.

As does a private effort, citizens who’ve volunteered to acquire from supermarket suppliers and hand out surplus produce on Sundays. Gerold attests, “Civic problems are complex and need partnerships to solve them. The police can clear out the criminal element, but to keep it out requires not only continued police presence but the community filling the space with positive activity, [which] makes the area unattractive for the criminal element. At [a] community meeting last week, people described moms and kids using the parks, sports teams practicing, people walking their dogs, things that didn’t used to happen.”

A severe problem persists: several blocks toward Nicollet Avenue, the stretch along Franklin Avenue between Portland and Clinton, where pedestrians run a veritable gauntlet trying to pass through without being harassed to buy drugs. You can walk from Chicago Avenue, on either side of the street, minding your own business and find yourself harangued with such sales pitches as, “I got butter,” “It’s gravy,” or “Try it before you buy it.” City Council Member Robert Lilligren states, “The [drug] traffic [there] has long been a concern. Though it ebbs and flows, it is persistent. Communities, working police precincts, are organizing responses.” Lilligren goes on to say, “The recent turnaround in Peavey [Park] is a great example of community stakeholders coming together to address an issue. I am very proud of the community response.

This is how we do it in Phillips. One of the reasons the response was so swift and effective is because of the past experience in this of residents, activists, the MPD, area organizations and business — we have been through this before. This gave us an established framework that helped people engage and helped move us quickly. “In my time representing the Sixth Ward and before, there have been a number of efforts to better organize the community’s response. Several of the property owners/managers in the area pool resources to hire off-duty police, as does the Ventura Village neighborhood organization.”

Inspector Lucy Gerold states, “The research is clear that some but not all crime is displaced with strong enforcement efforts. So we have eliminated the crime in and around Peavey Park but some of it has moved, not all of it. We are aware of three primary areas where some of the drug dealing has moved, and we continue both uniform and plain-clothes enforcement. We are also focusing on the problem properties that are feeding the problem.” A resident in the vicinity, who prefers not to be identified, has this to say:

“It’s a good thing what they did, what the police did, in getting [drugs] out of the park. I’m glad. But, I sure wish they get these criminals out of here, too. Maybe it’s one thing at a time, I don’t know. But, we need some help on this block, a lot of help, just like they had over there.” Dwight Hobbes welcomes reader responses to P.O. Box 50357, Mpls., 55403.