Jordan One Year Later: What's Different, What's the Same

A City Pages Roundtable

 A year ago this friday, august 22, A botched drug raid at a north Minneapolis home resulted in a child's being injured by errant police gunfire. Fanned by rumors that the child had been killed by cops, longtime tensions between the police and the Jordan neighborhood's mostly African American youth erupted into what was variously described as a "melee," "riot," and "uprising." Vehicles were torched, rocks were thrown, and news crews were assaulted as dozens of people gathered in the streets.

At one point, the MPD's Fourth Precinct Commander Tim Dolan withdrew his officers and allowed members of community organizations--most notably Shane Price of the African American Men Project and The City, Inc.'s Spike Moss--to take the lead in a mostly successful attempt to defuse the situation. In the days and weeks following the disturbance, Jordan began to come to terms with its newfound notoriety.

In the months to come, new conflicts took shape. A grassroots activist, Don Samuels of the Jordan Livability Forum, decried the MPD's hiring of The City, Inc., to patrol the streets and pick up litter in the neighborhood, and agitated for stronger partnerships between the police and those who actually resided in the community. Samuels eventually parlayed the attention he received into a berth on the Minneapolis City Council, replacing Joe Biernat, who was convicted on federal extortion charges last February.

Then, seemingly, news about Jordan vanished from the headlines--violent crime statistics in the neighborhood are down marginally from a year ago--only to reappear this summer after a series of shootings that prompted Samuels to mount a highly publicized fast and vigil. Eventually, Governor Tim Pawlenty assigned a dozen state patrol officers to help quell the violence.

As the first anniversary of the "Jordan melee" drew near, City Pages convened a roundtable to discuss crime, economic development, police-community relations, and other issues. Two of the invited participants did not attend: Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak said he needed to concentrate his time on preparing the city's budget, and Don Samuels was in Jamaica attending his brother's funeral. (A separate interview with Samuels appears on page 20.) But the half-dozen participants who did show up engaged in a polite but pointed 75-minute give-and-take.


City Pages: Since the melee that occurred in Jordan last August 22, what has changed in the neighborhood and what hasn't?

Steven Oates: The Jordan Area Community Council, which is the NRP [Neighborhood Revitalization Program] group that exists in Jordan, has increased its membership because of the melee. It has also forced the community to look more comprehensively at how we deal with livability issues, drugs, children, and dysfunctional families. We have a new council member who is very active in the community and has brought a lot of attention to these issues.

What has remained the same is that we still have drugs. And I'm gonna say this: We still have judges who are too lenient and should be more forceful in terms of really distinguishing who are persons who really need help. Because one of the good things about the neighborhood now is that we have done a lot of research on 30 or 40 of the bad guys, and they have tremendous rap sheets. And the residents are looking at it and going, "How can these people still be walking around and not in jail?"

Shane Price: Because I've been around a long time--not to say nobody else has--I'd like to go back to when the population was still majority European in the Hawthorne and the Jordan communities, and when NRP dollars and other kinds of opportunities for neighborhoods abounded. What we struggled with was that these communities were not ready to accept new residents as full participants. I met--and Steve Oates, you were there and felt it too--a lot of racial opposition for trying to engage the young people in the community in the process and get some of the neighborhoods to cut funding loose for youth programming. So I would add to the equation that, in some ways, race matters.

City Pages: So what you are saying is that Jordan is paying for past neglect?

Price: I wouldn't call it neglect. They were not ready for the influx of African Americans that came from Chicago, Gary, other places. So they really didn't know what to do. That was part of the shortsightedness on the part of NRP's organizational structure.

Michelle Gross: I want to throw in something here, as Shane Price says, to keep the conversation honest. There was a reason why the incident in Jordan happened. A particular incident sparked it, but a lot of other things led up to it. There was a lot of concern in the neighborhood about police. We go into the neighborhood and talk to people. And we have gotten many reports about people standing at bus stops in the morning with their work clothes on, trying to get to work, and police come up and photograph them, harass them, let them know that they are loitering, at a marked bus stop. This is not good policing, especially when it is happening while other people are down on the corner selling drugs and stuff. Bust the people that are doing wrong and leave the other ones alone.

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