A Minneapolis man's lonely fight against drug dealers in Ventura Village

Minneapolis "is a beautiful city, but this is an embarrassment. It needs to stop," says Jim Graham.

Minneapolis "is a beautiful city, but this is an embarrassment. It needs to stop," says Jim Graham.

In Minneapolis, drug dealers do mornings.

Retiree Jim Graham pulls from a coffee cup. Binoculars rest on the chair beside him. The 69-year-old is on duty on the front porch of the Ventura Village home where he and wife Janet have lived for more than a half century, the house where the couple raised three sons.

A morning ritual is in progress along East Franklin Avenue.

"Every morning and every night," Graham says. "It happens around the hour before and the hour after the shift change [for Minneapolis police]. The heaviest area of activity is by the bus shelter on East Franklin at 10th Avenue South."

Various cars circle the block. One stops. It's a dilapidated Dodge SUV that's missing a front headlight. The driver gets out and waves his arms, summoning a customer. They rendezvous toward the rear of the vehicle. A lookout patrols nearby, on guard in case a squad car makes an appearance. Which is about as likely as the Vikings winning back-to-back Super Bowls.

According to Graham, meth and crack are the resilient gold standards in these parts. Heroin's arrival came about two years ago.

"We had a period of reprieve for about 10 years, starting after the late '90s, when Minneapolis was Murder-apolis. It was disgrace," he says. "Back then, we asked for them to declare it a national disaster emergency because of all the crime and blight. It even made the Washington Post and the London Times."

"Steady Reign of Crime has Neighborhood Hoping for Disaster Relief," the Post's Jan. 5, 1997 headline read.

The bad PR resulted in a concerted effort between then-U.S. Attorney David Lillehaug, the Minneapolis PD, and residents conscripted into service as community Deputy Dogs.  

"We were able to chase them away," says Graham. "We focused on reclaiming the neighborhood one block at a time. Police were around. Neighbors watched out for the area and one another. We'd reclaim a block, hold it, and move on to the next. It was so successful we used to joke that you couldn't find a drug dealer on Franklin if you needed one."

Nobody's joking now. Today's traffic is unusually slow, Graham says. Most days it's 20 to 30 drug dealers, pimps, people buying drugs, and prostitutes loitering.

Cars come and go. Some stop, customers jump in, and the vehicles idle on the curb. Users stumble onto the sidewalk a short time later. Other times a dealer gets out to offload valuables contained in clear plastic bags, handing them to a corner dealer.

Addicts converge. Graham watches them torch their bowls in public, the euphoric ember burning yellowish orange.

Dealers moved back in around three years ago, according to Graham. Ever since, he's been trying to chase them out. Again.

"This is all happening because of political correctness," he says. "The city council ordered the police not arrest anybody for loitering with intent. And usually the only way you're able to stop and catch a drug dealer is loitering with intent. You actually don't catch that many selling or doing drugs. Since the police stopped doing that — because of the politicians — all heck has broken loose."      

It's a one-man job. The dealers and junkies know that police don't enforce Minneapolis' loitering ordinance, Graham contends. Therefore, they sell without impunity. Their loyal patrons show up like it's a religious gathering.

"All of this you can see from the porch of my house," he says. "When it gets really bad, I'll use my spotlight to shine on them. They're very much like cockroaches, by the way. You shine a million times worth of candle power on them they usually move."

Graham stopped calling police after realizing nixing drug deals wasn't a priority unless somebody got murdered in the process.

He catches junkies shooting up in the parking lot of the Norwegian Lutheran Memorial Church. It's not uncommon to find discarded needles across from Graham's house where kids catch the school bus.

Folks have flashed guns at him when he's had the gall to interrupt a transaction.

"One prostitute told me to get my white ass home," he says. "I'm native, so I resent that 'white ass' stuff."

Graham was threatened three times over the summer. The Vietnam vet doesn't scare easily.

Experience has taught him that politicians do jack — unless they're embarrassed into action. Today's political leaders in Minneapolis are no different.

"When I first moved to Minneapolis, it was the most beautiful city I'd ever seen," he says. "There used to be a canopy of elm trees up and down every street.

"It still is a beautiful city, but this is an embarrassment. It needs to stop, but it's obvious it can't be done by one person alone."