On a cold blustery Monday afternoon, dozens of community members and leaders gathered for a public safety discussion at a North Minneapolis space known as an after-school haven for children. The “Community Public Safety Meeting: Take Back Our City!” was held on February 21 at Harold Mezile North Community YMCA on West Broadway Ave.
The event was hosted by Deanna Perkins, executive director of YMCA. “Equity is one of our foundational values,” Perkins stated, “in addition to crime reduction and employment opportunities.”
The safety meeting consisted of a panel of well-known community members including Rev. Jerry McAfee of New Salem Baptist Church on the city’s North Side; Al “AJ” Flowers, program director of the Young Peoples Task Force; Charlie Adams, Minneapolis police inspector and North High coach; and Mickey Frost of Young Peoples Task Force.
The meeting was held blocks from where 15-year-old DeShaun Hill, a sophomore and quarterback on North High’s football team, was murdered on Feb. 9. In addition to Hill’s fatal shooting, a school bus driver was shot in the head by an errant bullet hours later. Several more shootings have occurred in the area since then.
“This was a young person who was a leader in his community,” Flowers said of Hill. “He was a leader amongst his peers. He fought to end gun violence. He fought against police brutality and injustice. The purpose of this meeting today is to discuss more about the community violence than the police violence,” he stressed.
To emphasize his point, Flowers then told the crowd to look at lists on the wall of all the victims who have lost their lives to gun violence since 2015. “In 2021 it’s two pages long, with only five killings from police—the rest [were] inflicted amongst ourselves.”
Adams pointed out one of the solutions to violence is to take the safety of children into account. As a coach, he has firsthand experience with some of the challenges young people face. “I have kids that don’t want to go home some days because there’s no food in the fridge or are scared to simply walk to the bus stop for fear of what happened to Hill,” he said.
In addition to wellness checks, Adams stressed how something as little as support can make a big difference in this type of environment. “Who’s making the decisions for our kids?” asked an emotional Adams. “We aren’t supporting our children, and that’s why they keep reoffending.”
He also pointed out that patrol officers in Minneapolis have been cut down by half in the department from 600 last year to just 283 currently, leaving more pockets of crime to occur in areas police may not be able to cover.
At the end of the event, community members had a chance to come forward and express their concerns and to press for more solutions outside the meeting.
The gathering was in partnership with Minnesota Safe Streets, a coalition of community violence interrupters that include 21 Days of Peace, A Mother’s Love, God Squad, United Community Meditation Team, Salem INC and 8218 Truce Center.
Ivan B. Phifer is contributing writer at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder. He can be reached at email@example.com