Gangs of St. Paul

In the capital city, a generation of younger, harder, more randomly violent gangsters wage war on themselves

Sgt. John Pyka and investigator Sandy Kennedy, both veteran St. Paul officers assigned to the gang strike force, are heading for a problem property on Forest Street shortly after 8:00 p.m. The temperature is in the teens, but Pyka keeps his window cracked. "I just want it down in case a gunshot goes off," he says. Their destination is the residence of a reputed member of the East Side Boys. "He just got out of prison," explains Kennedy. "They had some Selby Siders go over there and try to shoot it out with them."

But before they can locate the house, another member of the gang strike force calls for backup in the area. When Pyka and Kennedy arrive at the scene, they find three Hispanic teenagers handcuffed beside a gray Lincoln Town Car. A small amount of marijuana has been found on the driver of the vehicle. From the inside of the car officers also retrieve a baseball bat and a wooden two-by-four.

Pyka takes the lead in talking with the young men. "Hey guys, what's with the baseball bat?" he asks. "My mom keeps it for protection," the driver responds. Meanwhile Kennedy's dog, a rambunctious Labrador named Buck, sniffs around the vehicle for additional drugs, but comes up dry. Some 10 cops mill about the scene. The officers confiscate the bat and the two-by-four, and ticket the driver for possession of marijuana. The trio is released after about 10 minutes of interrogation.

By the time Pyka and Kennedy climb back into their vehicle, another squad is requesting assistance. When they arrive at the scene just a couple of blocks away, four young black men are handcuffed and seated shivering on the curb. They all sport baggy jeans and white 'do rags, but lack coats.

As officers search a maroon Chevrolet Impala that the group was stopped in, a crowd gathers at an adjacent property. A middle-aged black woman, apparently a relative of one of the suspects, confronts an officer. "He doesn't sell dope," she tells the cop. "He works every day." A McDonald's bag located inside the vehicle, however, is discovered to contain several baggies of marijuana.

Pyka again takes charge of the interviews. "Who you hang with? The Selbys or the LTGs?" he asks one of the young men, who range in age from 19 to 25. "I don't hang with nobody," the young man insists. It turns out that the driver has an outstanding warrant for his arrest. He's transported to jail and the car is impounded. The other three men are released. However, one of them wants his pack of Black and Mild cigars returned. Apparently the smokes have disappeared during the interrogation. As the owner of the cigars grows increasingly upset, Pyka advises him to forget about the missing smokes. "Time to hit the road," he says. "Or I'm gonna take you to jail."

As Pyka and Kennedy leave the scene, a report comes in that three shots have been fired near Central High School. "Apparently a younger kid got grazed," reports Kennedy. The pair is now cruising down Payne Avenue, which is largely quiet as 9:30 approaches, save for the occasional drunk stumbling down the sidewalk.

Another call for backup comes in, this time on Wheelock Parkway. Officers have pulled over a Honda Civic with a punched ignition, which generally indicates that a car's been stolen. At the scene two young men—an Asian with a bowl cut and an African American with braids—are again handcuffed and seated on the curb. Apparently they were pulled over for failing to use a turn signal. The Asian kid insists that the car belongs to his uncle, who owns an automotive repair shop. A check of the tags backs up his statement. The teenagers are quickly released.

The gang investigators are about ready to call it a night. Pyka and Kennedy take one last spin down Payne Avenue. They pull over to speak with two young black men who are walking down the sidewalk. Both profess to be from north Minneapolis. One of them wears a baseball cap emblazoned with "612." He's also sporting a wristband that provides evidence of a recent stint in jail. Kennedy inspects a digital camera that one of the men is carrying. It contains numerous photos of people displaying what appear to be gang signs. In one of them a guy has his hands shaped into a W. When Kennedy asks one of the young men what the W stands for, he answers "welfare." Despite her repeated expressions of disbelief, he sticks by this explanation. Kennedy eventually grows exasperated. "You're a fool," she tells him. "I'll run into you again."

As Pyka and Kennedy head back to the gang strike force office in New Brighton, more information has come in about the shooting near Central High School. Apparently a 16-year-old kid was leaving a basketball game at the school. He was approached by four black males and shot in the kneecap. The victim is being treated at Regions Hospital. He claims not to know his attackers. But early evidence indicates that he's another casualty of the ongoing feud between the Selby Siders and the East Side Boys.

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