Off Beat

Real Community

The evening events of a week ago Tuesday made me proud to live in Minneapolis. The five-block walk from my front door to the back yard of Horn Terrace and Tower public-housing complex was a Mr. Rogers scrapbook of Hmong and Latino sharing slides and swings on the Lyndale Community School playground, black and white playing chess over potato salad by the sidewalk, and no fewer than four National Night Out gatherings merrily humming with the sort of docile domesticity common to farm-family reunions.

The scene on the lawn behind the high-rises was more animated, with the woe and mirth of the participants fueled by the frisson of being at the epicenter of recent tragedy--the shooting deaths of a Minneapolis police officer and the suspect in her custody--and an impending rite of honor. Nothing was unseemly, not boisterous laughter or uncontrollable weeping. Hugs lingered and eye contact penetrated. Under an awning perched on a carpet of wood chips, a black funk band riffed in front of a white guy making beat-box sound effects and a Latino rapper getting mercilessly razzed by his friends for continually messing up a rhyme about how the Lord had changed his life.

Literally dozens of politicians and media members filtered through the crowd, bearing the self-conscious humility that makes them especially pathetic at such events. But to their credit, most of them seemed to realize it.

When it came time for the ceremony--the moment of silence, the ringing of the bell, the procession of testimonials--most of the speakers kept their oratorical posturing to a minimum. Instead, there was eloquence in the slack-jawed, ashen anguish of U.S. Rep. Martin Sabo's famously stoic, Scandinavian visage, and in the way U.S. Sen. Mark Dayton unsuccessfully tried to keep his jaw from quivering. Within the two communities who felt the loss of Melissa Schmidt most acutely, there was eloquence in the tears trickling down the face of her fellow police officers, and in the sign language spun with a wailing vigor by the many deaf people she had helped through the Minneapolis Police Department's Deaf SAFE program.

Good-to-the-bone wakes only occur on behalf of the righteously beloved. So it was that at Melissa Schmidt's community wake there was room for Horn Towers resident Preston Howze to come to the microphone and declare that Martha Donald should also be recognized that evening. It didn't matter that Donald was the villain and Schmidt the hero in the cataclysm that left both women dead in the cramped bathroom inside the nearby building less than a week before; Howze's grief and advocacy for the memory of his housemate was respectfully accommodated by those present.

And my estimation of Melissa Schmidt went up another notch. Good cops and bad cops prove who they are to the communities they serve day after day, leaving impressions that neither bullets nor bellicose unions can easily erase. The events of a week ago Tuesday were doggedly cleansed of cynicism and rancor. I'll remember them for a long time. --Britt Robson


Chicks and Chaw

On Thursday night I set out to break the law. My criminal plot led me to the Speedy Market at the corner of Dale and Thomas streets in St. Paul, where I purchased a can of Kodiak long-cut snuff. I then proceeded to deposit a small amount of the smokeless tobacco inside my lower lip and walk home. Along the way, making no attempt to hide my actions, I occasionally expectorated a stream of brown tobacco juice from my mouth onto the city sidewalk. Although a couple of police cars cruised by, in close-enough proximity to witness my actions, I was not issued a citation or thrown in the slammer.

It seems that there is little respect for the law in St. Paul.

Spitting is against the law in St. Paul, and has been since at least 1956. Section 207.01 of the city's legislative code dictates that "No person shall spit, or expectorate, or deposit, or place any sputum, spittle, saliva, phlegm, mucus or tobacco juice upon any part of any sidewalk; nor upon any part of the floors of theatres, churches, concert halls or other public places; nor upon the floor, steps, gates or seats of any bus or other public conveyance."

Apparently I am not alone in flouting this law. St. Paul City Council member Kathy Lantry maintains that she herself has never expectorated on public land, but allows that her two sons regularly engage in such criminal pursuits. "They spit all the time and I hate it," Lantry laments, blaming the practice on the poor example set by professional athletes. "Now I can say it's against the law. In fact I think I might just make a copy of it and post it to their bedroom doors."

City Attorney Manuel Cervantes says that his office has yet to bring charges against anyone for leaving sputum on public land and he doesn't expect any such prosecutions in the future. "It's not a question of time; it's a question of priorities," Cervantes says. "Is this really the business of the city at this time?"

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