Phil Murphy’s ‘True North Minneapolis’ Facebook dream is dead

Murphy’s online group gave the North Side’s silent majority a voice, according to its founder. [Photo: Star Tribune]

Murphy’s online group gave the North Side’s silent majority a voice, according to its founder. [Photo: Star Tribune]

In the beginning there was hope.

Phil Murphy’s Facebook group “True North Minneapolis” debuted in 2014. The idea was that by “shining the light on all things” North Side, the online cavalry would be moved to demand action. This would undoubtedly lead to pressure on elected officials. They’d have no choice but to dedicate greater resources to the long-haggard community.

“I started it so that the community here would find value in itself and work to reduce crime, the shootings in particular,” says Murphy. “So that more resources would come to help police do their job. More resources would come to help our little gangbangers get out of their little cliques.”

He had a prime perch from which to operate. Murphy’s Phil the Minneapolis Florist sits on North Dowling Avenue across from Folwell Park. He’s operated the shop since 1992.

“True North” had rules, including zero tolerance for trolling “with bullcrap” and racebaiting. Hundreds would come.

His weekly recaps kept running totals for shots fired, firearms recovered, and shootings, and compared those numbers to the previous year.

But things didn’t always go as planned. Lost in what was supposed to be information sharing were emotional piss fights and charged pontification, in which agreeing to disagree wasn’t an option.

Murphy was often was the biggest perpetrator. He’d post gruesome crime scene photos that seemed more about shock value than neighborhood improvement. He went off on politicians and youth he pigeonholed with terms like “urban terrorists.”

At some point True North morphed into Murphy’s soapbox, where everything North Side sucked, those running the show sucked more, and if you didn’t agree, you sucked too. As for actual problem solving, not so much.

Councilman Blong Yang posted about a $140,000 violence intervention grant the city had accepted.

“Often times,” wrote Yang, “immediately after a shooting is the best time to intervene in the cycles of retaliatory violence that can grip our streets. This money will be used to try and stop the gang violence in our city.”

The next month Murphy would take a Facebook swing at the council member. He'd call Yang's efforts "ineffective," speaking of "failure."

Success has proven elusive. Despite the best intentions, Murphy concedes, “We’ve failed at bringing additional resources to north Minneapolis, and I’ve disavowed myself of any notion things will change.”

Now Murphy is admitting surrender. He’s found a buyer for his florist shop and is bidding the North Side a final goodbye. The store will close its doors come October.

“This is the oldest flower shop in the state — 1904 — and it’s being killed by the community,” he says. “There’s no future for any free market business with all the gunfire here. My business has the dubious distinction of the most homicides in proximity of any business in the five-state area. It’s debilitating.”

Yang, for one, isn’t shedding any tears. 

“I guess he’s served a need and there’s some value in that,” he says. “But I'm not sad to see him go.”

Detractors be damned, Murphy says his group has given a voice to the powerless, those North Siders who want change, but are too afraid to speak up. He mentions a retired friend. She hasn’t stepped foot in her front yard a half-dozen times since 2011, according to Murphy.

“The city doesn’t care about north Minneapolis,” he says. “What you have here is a social engineering experiment. I call this a containment zone. We’re in essence invisible. As long as it’s not in my backyard, it’s hunky dory. In the meantime, the crime, the plight, and the suffering — until that dynamic is changed, people are going to continue to be afraid, living in their basements.”