Dr. Cedric Alexander has been Minneapolis’ first-ever public safety commissioner for about a month. Since he was sworn in on August 8, Alexander, in addition to his main job overseeing five departments including police, fire, 9-1-1, emergency management and neighborhood safety (formerly violence prevention), also has been attending community meetings to get better acquainted with his new city.
Over 100 people heard Alexander on August 25 at Phelps Park. They wanted him to know their concerns and frustrations over crime, especially in the 38th and Chicago area.
“The goal is to have a safe community,” said Alexander as he introduced himself in the packed Phelps gym. “My role is to make sure that you get 360 degrees of public safety in the city.”
But most of the two-hour meeting had residents expressing frustration about crime in the immediate vicinity—Phelps Park is located just a block away from the intersection of 38th and Chicago, where George Floyd was killed in May 2020. Since then it has been called George Floyd Square, but mainly the intersection has been blocked, forcing city buses to detour around it.
Two homicides also took place in the vicinity earlier in August. Many residents complained that the police aren’t as visible to deter criminal activity in the neighborhood as in the past.
“I hear the same thing from residents [at] every community meeting I go to in every part of the city in every neighborhood,” said MPD Interim Chief Amelia Huffman. She and Third Precinct Inspector Jose Gomez both were invited to speak at the meeting.
Crime is up all over Minneapolis: According to BestPlaces.net, the city is almost twice the national average in violent crime and three times the average in property crime. Minneapolis’ 2022 violent crime rate comparably is three percent higher than Chicago’s, about 14% higher than both Los Angeles and New York City, and almost twice as high in property crime than all three cities.
Crime throughout the state of Minnesota is up as well. The Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA) 2021 Uniform Crime Report says that violent crime in Minnesota accounted for over six percent of all crime reported in 2021.
Hennepin County reported the biggest totals among the seven-county metro area in homicides (16%) and robbery (29%). Dakota County and Washington County both showed the biggest one-year increases in aggravated assault, 57% and 96% respectively.
Huffman told last week’s gathering that “violent crime is too high.” She pointed out, “We’re investigating 59 homicides, 166% higher than 2019. There have been over 350 victims of gunshot wounds in 2022, 101% higher than in 2019. That is almost 180 men, women and children.”
Brother James’ church, Worldwide Outreach for Christ, is on the corner of 38th and Chicago, just across the street from where Floyd was killed in May 2020. He decried the area’s lack of safety and expressed his concerns to the three officials.
“There’s no police presence,” he later told the MSR. “I don’t see police coming through. Someone got murdered during a church service. We just can’t give up the community to violence. This is my home.”
“We have a much smaller police department than we did in 2020,” said Huffman, referring to her department’s reduced workforce since 2020 for many reasons, including retirements.
“I’m just proud of the officers that are working here,” added Gomez.
Suluki Fardon complained that the 38th and Chicago intersection needs to be fully reopened. “I would hope that they open the street back up,” he told the MSR. “People are getting tired of what’s going on here.”
After a woman pointed out that her community doesn’t trust the police, Alexander responded, “Trust is a hard thing to reveal when someone is betrayed or someone hurt us. I had no idea two years ago that I would be standing here with you. But I say it to you, from the bottom of my heart, I am sorry” for Floyd’s death, said Alexander.
“My responsibility as your commissioner, whether you like me or not, I am pained by it. I’m still hurt by it. And I apologize for what happened.”
“I apologize on behalf of what happened to George Floyd,” continued Alexander as the attendees applauded him for his public statement. “I promise you, we’re gonna fight till the end to protect you.”
Brother James afterward was impressed: “He got a tough job,” he said of Alexander. “One of the things that really touched my heart is, he apologized.”
Asked by the MSR if he felt he’d made a good impression on the residents, Alexander responded, “I hope I did. Being the ultimate leader here in public safety in this community, in this city, I feel compelled and felt it was important to certainly show a great deal of empathy and sympathy and apologize for the horrible death that took place.
“We all have a responsibility to be apologetic,” Alexander said. “It was important for me to say that publicly to this community here that night.”
Minneapolis City Council President Andrea Jenkins organized last week’s meeting, which had on its agenda to discuss economic development, job training opportunities, and the next steps to create a lasting memorial at 38th and Chicago to honor Floyd’s life. That didn’t happen. Jenkins later told the MSR that her constituents needed to vent their frustration instead.
“This is a passionate community that expressed their concerns,” said Jenkins. “That makes me optimistic that I know that people care.”
Charles Hallman is a contributing reporter and award-winning sports columnist at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.