38th Street violence rattles community

The Minneapolis Police inspectors named the houses near the intersection of 37th Street and 1st Avenue as problem area for shootings.

Residents, police meet to explore solutions

On an exceedingly hot, thunderous, and humid mid-July Monday, community members of all ages and colors from the Central neighborhood and surrounding areas gathered in a gymnasium with no AC on the second floor of Sabathani Community Center in South Minneapolis. The meeting took place exactly one month after multiple gunshot wounds claimed the life of 26-year-old Steven Creamer Jr., according to the medical examiner’s report.

Sabathani is located near the scene of the homicide at 37th and 3rd Ave. South.

In spite of the miserable conditions both indoors and out, around 40 community members showed up to the one-and-a-half-hour meeting co-led by Council Vice President Andrea Jenkins and Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo with a panel of high-ranking law enforcement officials of the Third and Fifth precincts.

Though meetings of this nature are notoriously under-attended, the reason behind the call to the discussion was provocative enough to stir attention: an uptick in violence on the 38th Street Corridor, specifically a shooting near 38th and 3rd Ave. as well as the Creamer homicide early on the same day, June 15. 

Jenkins, Arradondo, Third Precinct Inspector Michael Sullivan, Fifth Precinct Inspector Amelia Huffman, and Deputy Chief of Patrol Kathy Waite thanked community members for showing up. “Generally, the Third and Fifth precinct do their own thing, but they’re all here tonight…to let you know that these issues are being taken seriously,” Jenkins said, later highlighting a need to “get at the root of” some of these issues she described as “longstanding challenges in our community.” 

“There have also been some significant challenges within our Somali community, and we really want to think about how we address this from a cultural standpoint,” Jenkins continued. Community members and the MPD representatives exchanged thoughts on how to bring relative peace to the area that’s become a hotbed of gunfire.

 Officers stymied

Per inspectors Sullivan and Huffman, the exact cause of the increase of violence on the 38th Street Corridor — particularly from Grand Ave. to Chicago Ave. — is complex and multifaceted. But one thing appears certain: The type of crime you might encounter on the corridor is different depending on whether you’re on the east or the west side of Interstate 35W. 

Fifth Precinct Inspector Huffman, recently appointed in April, described what she’s observed from her west side of the highway. “While we have had a handful of robberies since the beginning of the year, serious assaults have been primarily domestic-related, so we haven’t had that ‘shots fired’ kind of activity happening. But we have seen quite a bit of property-related crime.” 

Sullivan, posted on the east side of the 35W as the Third Precinct Inspector, has a different picture, stating that “gang activity” and behavior associated with it — as well as activities occurring in “problem properties” — have been particularly challenging both to residents and police. 

These problem properties, three in all, Sullivan noted, are on the 100 block of 37th Street and the 3000 block of Clinton Avenue.

Per Sullivan, it’s difficult to describe and handle what he refers to as “general activity.” It isn’t like the “crack phase” of the 1990s, Sullivan explained to the audience, “where the crack houses were obvious.” Now, Sullivan and his officers have to handle their hunches of criminal activity at these “problem properties” while keeping in mind the rights of the persons that either own or rent the homes. 

So far, Sullivan has responded by increasing community response police squads, along with MPD’s gang unit that is looking for known gang members and making sure they aren’t at these problem properties.   

But, Jenkins announced, there’s more that can be done and is already in the works. The “38th Street Drive” project will “improve this corridor through signage, through lighting, through creating opportunities for small businesses, and for people to work,” she said, further describing the project as a “holistic approach.” 

While some community members in attendance seemed in agreement, one man stood up incensed by these “general” public safety measures. “I thought we were here to talk about the shootings that have been going on around here. This dead-end alley right here is what we’re here to talk about because that has always been a problem,” said the longtime Central resident. 

“We’re here to talk about the gangs that are just around the corner,” he continued, “which disturb the neighborhood by shooting gunshots in the air. Kids can’t play around here. You can’t walk through here for fear of what might happen. It’s ridiculous!”

This too incited murmurs of agreement.

Residents frustrated

Another concerned citizen echoed the man’s frustrations, stating that “public safety implications for a neighborhood should take precedence over aesthetic considerations or recreational considerations.” 

Deputy Chief of Patrol Kathy Waite encouraged community members to “work together” with officers, but many in attendance considered such collaboration easier said than done. According to some, police officers along the Corridor haven’t been approachable and have even been prejudiced. 

One woman said that she was often met with rudeness from officers — both on the phone and in-person — when trying to report shootings. “I’m just wondering if just some more smiles might help. It sounds kind of sappy, but there you go!” 

Another attendee, a restaurant owner, grimly recounted how his encounters with racist officers, though not physically hostile, were emotionally harsh. “As a business owner and someone invested in the community and the neighborhood, I’m pissed.”

Frustrations voiced by representatives from Tasho Community, an immigrant-founded organization dedicated to preventing community deterioration and empowering Somali adults and youth, paralleled the restaurant owner’s anecdote. 

“We own the fact that there has been an increase in conflict between the police and Somali youth, but we also point out that most of the problems are caused by misunderstandings and misconceptions… In many instances we found out that the Somali youth were labeled by police because they live in project housing, or that they would join terrorist groups — there’s this misconception,” one rep said. 

Arradondo responded fervently, addressing the audience as a whole. “I don’t want this generation of young Somali children to think that based upon their zip code, or their skin color, that we are going to treat them differently outside the law. I don’t want that perpetuated. We are required to treat every community member with respect and dignity, regardless of their zip code.”

Jenkins admitted there is presently no time frame for implementing suggested public safety reforms, not even for more concrete proposals like street lights or increased patrols. Waite reiterated the importance of building strong communities and forging connections with approachable officers in the meantime.

“I need people to be willing to get to know their neighbors, get to know the renters down the street,” Waite said. She discouraged circulating unsubstantiated rumors about criminal activity that could potentially make matters worse.

Minneapolis police are still investigating the cause behind the homicide of Steven Creamer Jr. Persons with information are encouraged to contact the Minneapolis Police Homicide Unit at 612-673-2941. 

Mónica Zorrilla welcomes reader responses to msrnewsonline@spokesman-recorder.com.