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It's hard to miss Charmaine Williams's home, especially now. Even in late March, when almost everything in the city was sheathed in a veil of pebbly gray sludge and front yards had turned into sodden wastelands of twigs and tangled holiday lights, there were plastic flowers peeking through the snow in front of Williams's house on 30th Street and Dupont Avenue North. The small lawn was dotted with stuffed animals, empty and broken glass vases, and a few beer bottles. A baby-blue dinosaur, puppy dogs with big droopy eyes, teddy bears that look like State Fair prizes, and bouquets of artificial blossoms in fuchsia and indigo formed a half-circle around a tree.
The items are part of a memorial to Williams's son Gary Parker, a 15-year-old who was shot and killed on June 15 of last year at 36th Street and Oliver Avenue North. He was a passenger in a car when he was struck in the head by a bullet that, according to Ron Edwards, a community activist and member of the Police Community Relations Council, was probably intended for the driver, a 20-something man known to Williams only as James*. And though it's been more than nine months since Parker died, Williams vows not to remove the cluster of mementos from her front yard until her son's killer is brought to justice.
"I don't care if people think it's crazy," Williams says. "People need to know. People need to know that my son died. People need to know that his killer is still out there."
Williams's son was murdered during the peak of the homicide and violent-crime spike last summer, when the number of shooting victims had increased by 24 percent from the same period in 2004, and homicides had risen about 40 percent. Parker was the city's 26th murder victim of 2005. "Number 26," Williams says. "That's all he is to the police. My son is number 26."
Gary Parker's friend Kevin Epps, a 19-year-old he met when he moved to the North Side the previous summer, later became number 45 of the 49 murders committed locally in 2005. Epps and 20-year-old Robert Springfield were found shot to death in a car behind an apartment building at 1818 Bryant Avenue North, during the early morning hours of December 8. The two murders, according to the MPD, aren't connected to Parker's killing, though all three do share one common link: They're among the 19 murders that went unsolved in Minneapolis last year.
Williams and her 11-year-old daughter Cheyanne rattle off a list of names and numbers: unsolved murders in their neighborhood this year and last, people they knew, stories Cheyanne has heard at Jordan Park elementary school, and details Charmaine learned around the neighborhood or at the Cub Foods near her home. "How old was that boy who got shot on Sixth Street?" Charmaine wonders. "My teacher said he was 15," Cheyanne says, looking up from her computer card game. They're talking about Michael Bluntson, who was shot in the head in late February of this year on Sixth Street and 25th Avenue North. Like Parker's, that murder investigation remains open.
The Minneapolis Police Department considers a case closed when an arrest has been made and there's enough evidence for the Hennepin County Attorney's office to issue a criminal complaint against the alleged offender. Overall, the MPD's homicide solve rate for 2005 is 61 percent, a number consistent with the national average of about 62 percent, according to the latest FBI figures. But when broken down by race of the victim, the numbers tell a very different story.
The MPD's clearance rate for white male victims in 2005 was 89 percent. For black males, however, the rate was 46 percent. In fact, of the city's 19 unsolved murders last year, 16 of the victims were black males. The other three were Pa Houa Yang, the 13-year-old Hmong girl who was found frozen and shot to death in a van, a 28-year-old Native American male, and a 35-year-old white male. All but two of the open cases are from the city's third and fourth precincts—the neighborhoods immediately to the north and south of downtown.
Ron Edwards says that not enough is being done to solve these crimes, further aggravating the distrust of police in those neighborhoods. "There are too many homicides that go unsolved, and far too many of them in these neighborhoods," he says. "Something needs to be done about it. Unfortunately, with the departure of the chief, who knows what's going to happen."
Williams says her son's killing has been abandoned by the Minneapolis Police Department, forcing her to instead rely on information from Edwards about her son's case. She learned through Edwards, not the MPD, that her son was not believed to be the intended target. And it was Edwards who informed her that the cops are fairly sure who killed her son, but haven't proceeded with an arrest.
Because Parker's case is still open, the MPD won't reveal any details of their investigation or of the shooting itself. They will only offer that they're pretty sure who did it, but the Hennepin County Attorney's office needs more proof. According to Lt. Lee Edwards (no relation to Ron Edwards), the head of the MPD's homicide division, they're still working on gathering that.