Columbus Avenue, near Franklin Avenue, is sunny and quiet, a nice little block. Peavey Park is down at the end, stretching from Chicago to Park Aves., an appealing, green expanse with trees, squirrels, birds — as pretty a picture as there is. The place looks like some kind of scene from a postcard or painting. The word would be serene.
The word would also be empty. There is not a living soul, no kids playing or parents casually keeping an eye out. There are no lovers walking around, holding hands and nobody reading a book on a blanket, nothing.
Until you get there and, crossing Franklin, look over to the Southeast corner, the Thrones Plaza entrance, which a knot of living, breathing eyesores occupy, where crackheads, hookers and dealers hangout, generally unruly, unkempt and unlikeable. This particular morning, there’s also an ugly incident going on.
A woman is, at the top of her lungs, yelling “Back off!” She’s wielding a claw hammer. The guy she’s aiming for is trying to reason with her, but she keeps offering to split his skull. Others, idly entertained onlookers, aren’t taken aback in the least by this violent display of loudmouthed, Neanderthal-like ignorance. In fact, they simply take it in stride.
On the far side of Chicago, behind apartments on Elliot Ave., the furry, four-legged unfortunates have taken residence in an abandoned garage that’s been sealed off, except for a hole someone made, just big enough for them to safely slip in and out. One of them never comes right up, but strolls over and sits a few feet away, knife and fork out, napkin on his chin, waiting for food to be dropped off in the bowls. Then, goes over and chows down.
At the intersection of Elliot and 21st St., squatting on a low wall, is spillover from Peavey Park. Some of them smoking crack in broad daylight like it’s legal. In the park, things have settled down. The woman and man are gone. The rest of them are still there, taking up space, using perfectly good air decent folk could be breathing.
Go only a mile or so down Chicago and look to the right. There’s another pretty place, Elliot Park. Only there people play soccer and tennis, have cookouts, swim in a pool, so on and so forth. Say what you will about gentrification, this comfortable sense of communal wellbeing is directly attributable to East Village tearing down dilapidating housing where the crack-and-hooker trade holed up and thrived along with rats and roaches, putting up reasonably affordable, Somali-occupied units on one side and expensive as hell units on the other.
There’s no Section 8, which, sad to say, is all too often a magnet for those who insist on fulfilling the stereotype of welfare-check, crack-smoking layabouts, who — after they put yours and my tax dollars on the pipe — used to wander over to the park to hustle up a high. About five years ago, for a few months, a tiny courtyard at Chicago and Franklin lost its stranglehold on the quality of life in Peavey Park. The Minneapolis Police Department, however inglorious a reputation they have, executed a lightning strike that, through undercover stings and plain, simple cops hauling thugs and prostitutes off en masse, cleaned the area up literally overnight.
Single moms from the Project for Pride in Living complex over on Elliot brought youngsters to enjoy the fun of being able to relax in the sunshine and have a good time. Indeed, the whole surrounding area suddenly was a civilized neighborhood.
Too bad it didn’t last long. Law enforcement seems to have pretty much handed the park back. Maybe it’s not the case.
Perhaps the MPD is laying in wait, planning to execute another operation, preparing to act so swiftly and decisively the dealers and their customers don’t know what hit them. And follow-up so concretely they don’t even dream of returning.
One dares hope.
Dwight Hobbes welcomes reader responses to P.O. Box 50357, Mpls., 55403.