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In North Minneapolis, at the intersection of North Lyndale and West Broadway, a crowd gathers every night. They loiter, they smoke, they drink, they deal drugs and do drugs. The open-air drug market takes on the form of a street party, until the gunfire rings out – and that happens almost every night.
Two nights we were in Minneapolis and both nights there was gunfire at the intersection. The first night, two people were shot. It is so severe, the gas station on the corner has been nicknamed by the locals: murder station. People who live close say the violence, drug use and gang activity in North Minneapolis has become intolerable.
Fearful of retaliation, Christiana would only give me her first name. “I got a sound I raise out here,” she says. “My child can’t play in the yard. I hear four gunshots a night on my block.” Loretha King stopped our camera crew to let us know the plight of the people in her community. “The kids can’t even walk up to Wendy’s or Taco Bell or anywhere.” She says, “Because there’s so much drug trafficking, there’s so much gang violence.”
Mike Oker is the general manager of the 4th avenue saloon about a block and a half away from “Murder Station.” He was eager to security camera pictures of the drug dealers he runs out of the alley behind his bar every night. “I’ve never seen it this bad. I think not anybody has seen it this bad,” He says.
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The spike in violent crime times out with the defund/disband police movement. Year to date violent crime currently shows a 29% increase over 2019, the year before George Floyd was murdered. The year of the riots, violent crime jumped 20% in Minneapolis. “I think it really flared after the George Floyd situation,” says King. After budget cuts and a public campaign by the Minneapolis city council to do away with the Minneapolis Police, the MPD is down 300 officers. As a result, people in the trouble spots complain it can take as long as an hour to get a response to a 911 call. “It takes police forever to get here now,” says King.
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Mike Martin, Vice President of the Midwest Gang Investigators Association, says the boldness we see from young gangsters is a result of undermining support for police. “There’s definitely a belief among the youth and young adults that there are no consequences for their behavior because they see a reduced number of police officers,” He says noting that police are so short-staffed, investigators are tasked with day to day policing. “So there’s no kind of proactive work going on.”
Rev. Darryl Spence, is a liaison between police and gang members in the twin cities. He says young gangsters are aware that police are understaffed, slow to respond and reluctant to respond aggressively. “If you’re a criminal you know the police aren’t coming. You have more time to do what you do and get away,” says Spence.
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I spoke with an older, but still active member of the Gangster Disciples in the Twin Cities. He didn’t want to use his name but tells me the break-down of the gang structure contributes to the violence. The gangs have digressed to armed cliques. There is no central or enduring leadership. When a decision is made to shoot someone over a petty dispute, there is no heavyweight within the gang to stop it. “Now these days these gangs are reckless, real reckless,” the gangster says. “There used to be structure in there, no women no kids. Now, it’s just a free for all, anybody can get involved.” Martin has a similar observation of the gangs. “They’re younger, less organized and they’re out there carrying guns because they’re not getting stopped as often and when they run into rivals they use those guns.”
The gangster says people can get shot anywhere. But the people loitering and drinking on the street, the way they do at Broadway and Lyndale, are only having fun until the next shooting. “It’s like you’re playing Russian roulette,” he says.