Blong Yang ducks gunfire during just another night in a crime 'hot spot'

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City Council member Blong Yang's north Minneapolis neighborhood has a wildly different experience with crime than other parts of town. Aaron Lavinsky, Star Tribune

Blong Yang was just falling asleep after midnight Monday morning.

Pop-pop-pop-pop-pop-pop!

Instinctually, Yang and his wife dropped out of bed to the floor, listening to the sound of about a dozen gunshots. The shooting stopped as suddenly as it had started. Yang reached for his phone.

"I've called 911 for gunshots before," the first-term city council member says. "This time it sounded really, really close."

The next day, when Yang checked the police's "shot spotter" map report, he saw the gunfire noise had essentially registered at the address of his next door neighbor's house.

After dialing 911, Yang moved through the house to check on his two kids -- "stray bullets fly everywhere," he says -- who were fine. Yang went back to his bedroom and kept vigil, peering through the window to the street. He was relieved to soon see a policeman walking the sidewalk, collecting shell casings from the shooting. 

"The sad answer to what happened next is, we went back to sleep like any other day," Yang says. "We're conditioned like that. It wasn't the first time this has happened, it won't be the last."

Yang says he "probably should've" known more about his Jordan neighborhood's reputation as a "hot spot" for crime and gun violence before he bought a home there. But he's not about to move away, and says selective home buying ignores the city's ills.

"People find out where I live, and they say, 'Why are you living in a hot spot?'" Yang says. "I should be able to live anywhere in Minneapolis, and anywhere in north Minneapolis, and feel safe."

Yang's experience as a homeowner and council member is vastly different from that of some of his colleagues. In the south Minneapolis neighborhood of Linden Hills, council member Linea Palmisano's Ward 13 recently experienced its first victim of a violent killing since 2014: Justine Damond, the Australian woman shot by Minneapolis police officer Mohamed Noor

That stretch of peacefulness is, to Yang, unimaginable. Violent crime in the Fourth Precinct, which covers the North Side, is down statistically from last year, but the neighborhood still absorbs the majority of shootings in Minneapolis.  

"I was out door-knocking this past weekend, and I had a couple sit me down and, kind of, beat me up over it," Yang says. "They said this [crime rate] wouldn't be allowed to stand in any other neighborhood -- basically, any white neighborhood -- in the city." 

Yang's constituents are divided on what needs to change. Some say the neighborhood is already over-policed -- he lives a couple minutes' drive from the site of the Jamar Clark police shooting -- while others "want police officers everywhere, all the time." Of the two approaches, Yang leans more toward the latter, though he's not calling for a crackdown on the neighbors whose pot smoke he smells.

"I just don’t want people to shoot and kill each other," Yang says. "It’s complicated, I know. But we just want to be safe."

Yang didn't go into explicit detail with his kids, ages 9 and 7, after checking on them following Monday morning's gunshots. So far, he's spared them the harsh realities of the area's crime, but figures that innocence can only last so long. 

"In the next few years, those are going to be real conversations we have, and my kids will probably ask me... 'Why do we live here?'" he says. "And I'm going to struggle with trying to find the right answers. I know the answer for myself, and for my wife. And I also know that my kids are privileged in a way other kids in this neighborhood aren't. I'm concerned for my kids, and for the other kids who don’t have that privilege."


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