Shots rang out downtown last weekend, just as the Friday night bar crowd poured onto streets near the Hennepin Avenue light-rail station. When the dust settled, 26 bullet casings were recovered and six people had been wounded, including several bystanders. Minneapolis police quickly arrested two men, who have been charged, so far, with nine counts of shooting at officers and one count of illegal gun possession by a felon.
Few situations are more frightening than crimes that randomly turn anyone into a victim. It wounds our sense of safety when simply walking on a public street feels dangerous. Typically, the response to these incidents is more and better policing. In this case, there were 18 officers within minutes of the scene; surveillance cameras were rolling. But that didn’t stop the bad guys; streets that were well-policed and packed with people did not deter them.
That’s a different kind of crime-fighting challenge, city officials said during a City Council Public Safety Committee this week. And, as one pointed out, combating it involves a strong focus on gun access — using current laws to prevent violent criminals from getting guns, prosecuting them to the maximum when they possess and use guns, and expanding efforts to take more firearms out of circulation.
Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman and downtown police Inspector Mike Kjos said they are looking at additional traffic-flow and business-hour changes, understanding that those strategies only go so far. Therefore, doubling down on access to firearms can make a difference. It’s far too easy for those who intend to inflict harm to get guns. And once caught and convicted on gun charges, too many of them are back on the streets too soon. As Freeman noted, his office, the various law enforcement agencies and downtown stakeholders must continue to work together to bring brazen offenders to justice.
Still, the city is right to also reinforce some policing efforts. Officials said there will generally be an even-more-visible police presence during late night and/or early morning hours. In some areas, parking spots have been removed to break up a recurring problem: shooters who come downtown looking for the cars of rivals to take a shot at them. The city is also running a pilot project along a stretch of 1st Avenue N. where the sidewalk has been temporarily expanded into the street to move crowds out more quickly and make it easier for emergency responders to get in if needed.
Longer term, a coalition of city, county, sheriff, school, Metro Transit and downtown business representatives, along with the community at large, must continue to work on youth violence prevention. That includes programs that focus on improved education, mentoring, summer jobs and other constructive activities.
It’s important to note that downtown Minneapolis remains generally a safe place to work, live and enjoy entertainment. Shootings like the one last weekend are still relatively rare. But the fact is that there has been an uptick in violent crimes not only in Minneapolis, but in cities around the country. And in a downtown area, it doesn’t take many of these incidents for people to make different choices. Fear of being caught in a crossfire can understandably make people think twice about patronizing shops, entertainment venues, and sports and concert stadiums — and discourage more downtown living.
To maintain a vibrant, safe downtown, ratchet up efforts to keep guns away from criminals, prosecute and penalize gun offenders, and expand youth violence prevention programs.