North Side Story

This year the murder rate has doubled in north Minneapolis. What's changed? Nothing, really. That's the trouble.

As soon as the weather turned warm this spring, the 3200 block of Bryant Avenue North crackled with activity. Teenage drug dealers worked the corners, stashing their dope in two vacant, dilapidated houses on the south end of the block. Prostitutes turned tricks inside the abandoned dwellings. Scofflaws of all sorts swarmed around the Star Foods convenience store at the busy intersection of Lowry and Bryant.

In June, the residential street erupted in violence. An ice-cream man was shot during a botched robbery involving just $40. Later that month, a teenager involved in gang activity was shot three times in the leg. In July, a woman pregnant with twins who was living at a notorious drug house was stabbed multiple times. One resident who dared to confront the teenagers slinging dope on the block got a bullet through her living room window.

On the night that the ice-cream man was shot, Sherman Patterson Jr. was sitting on his front porch meditating. He thought the gunshot was a firecracker until a half-dozen squad cars showed up on the scene. A 40-year-old retired Army sergeant, Patterson has lived in the Folwell neighborhood with his wife and son for two years. The spate of criminal activity spurred him to take action. Patterson and his neighbors organized litter patrols, barbecues, and prayer vigils. They got the two abandoned houses boarded up. They called the cops repeatedly and spent as much time as possible simply hanging out on the block. "This summer was just a new awakening," says Patterson.

The positive results are tangible on a recent weekday afternoon. There's not a corner boy in sight and trash is noticeably absent. But Patterson and another area activist, Warren Edwards, then lead a tour of the surrounding blocks that quickly dispels any sense of hopefulness. At 36th and Lyndale, teenage dope dealers conduct business as openly as if operating a lemonade stand. Over on the corner of 30th

and Colfax, the yard of a ramshackle drug house is littered with scores of Phillies Blunt wrappers and small plastic baggies. "That house is hot," says Edwards, noting that the operation is run "old-school, by a highly organized gang."

He should know. Raised in Harlem, Edwards became a Gangster Disciple in the mid-1970s. By the early 1990s, he was running heroin and cocaine on the North Side, near the very house he's walking past. Edwards left the thug life eight years ago, he says, after he realized how out of hand things had become. "From 1974 to 1994, it was like night and day," Edwards recalls. "Things got nasty, and things got violent. It all happened during the 1980s, when crack cocaine came in. Then all the focus was about money."

Edwards, who began selling drugs at age 13, spends much of his time trying to steer kids of a similar age toward jobs. He believes that most of the violence now is coming from the splinter groups, the wannabe gangsters. "The Gangster Disciples, the Vice Lords, they cool right now," he says, insisting that there is a code among older gang members that's become largely irrelevant. "Ain't nothing but a bunch of young thugs, looking for a rite of passage. I tell them [dealing] can be lucrative work, but not at the expense of killing people."

At the corner of 34th and Bryant, just a block and a half from Patterson's house, a pair of blue Converse high-tops dangle from the electrical wire crossing the street, an indicator that dope can be purchased at the intersection. On the southwest corner two kids, around 14 years old by Patterson's estimate, are flagging down cars.

"They used to be down on my block all the time," he sighs. This is the kind of victory that vigilance and action tend to buy you in the North Side's more troubled neighborhoods: You push the drug dealing a block away, and it becomes your neighbors' problem.

 

Opinions vary as to whether the routine violence of life in the most destitute pockets of north Minneapolis is really escalating. But the area's murder rate has seen a striking spike this year. Homicides in the city of Minneapolis are down overall from 32 at this time last year to 25 in 2004 through last weekend. However, the North Side has been the site of 17 of them--more than double the number at this point last summer. Since May alone, 14 people have been killed in the Fourth Precinct, which includes the entire portion of north Minneapolis to the west of I-94. The victims were mostly young African American males with rap sheets and alleged gang ties. All but three of the murders have occurred in the blocks between West Broadway Avenue and 39th Avenue North.

In the early morning hours of June 13, for instance, 20-year-old Derrick Turnage, a notorious neighborhood troublemaker who'd had nearly 100 run-ins with the police over the years, was gunned down in the 3300 block of Logan Avenue North. A month later, 19-year-old Tony Wiley's body was discovered in front of a house on the 2700 block of Queens Avenue North, dead from a gunshot wound to the thigh that apparently severed his femoral artery and caused to him to bleed out. Later that same evening, Darrell Humphrey's bullet-riddled corpse was found slumped on a bus bench in front of a White Castle on West Broadway Avenue. And less than a week after that incident, an assailant chased down 20-year-old Akeen Brown and shot him execution-style in the back office of Big Stop Foods in the Jordan neighborhood. (Of the 17 murders, 10 remain unsolved.)

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