On Saturday, about 200 people gathered at Faith Deliverance Holiness Church in Minneapolis to mourn a 31-year-old black man named Thurman Blevins.
Blevins was shot and killed by Minneapolis police who were responding to a call about a man firing a gun, which they found at the scene.
“I don’t have anything," a neighbor heard him say. "I didn’t do anything. Leave me alone.”
Meanwhile, a smaller crowd was assembling in the shadow of the Cathedral of St. Paul. They carried signs that said “Honk: youth violence prevention” and “Hit me with your wisdom, not your fists.”
It was organized by the Center for Homicide Research. For the past 20 years, the nonprofit’s researchers have been amassing data about whom, how, and why people kill. They have the only LGBT homicide database in the nation. They have a database showing the connection between murder and food scarcity in Native American communities. They have numbers showing that nearly half of all church shootings are committed by people affiliated with the church.
All this information is carefully collected with a single goal in mind: ending homicide altogether. The idea of murder becoming a thing of the past may be ludicrous to some, but organizer Jeff Mathwig insists they have a chance.
“Homicide is preventable,” he says. The sooner people realize that, he says, the sooner they can actually do something about it.
That includes killings perpetrated by police officers. Mathwig says there was no significance to the timing of the rally, but the confluence of events wasn’t lost on V.J. Smith. He’s the president of MAD DADS (Men Against Destruction Defending Against Drugs and Social Disorder). He brought a handful of kids with him to hold signs and cheer at honking drivers.
“We wanted our youth to experience what it’s like to be a part of a rally,” he says. It’s important to have these positive moments, especially in the wake of events like Blevins’ death. The loss of a life is a loss born by the whole community.
“I have memories of so many homicides in my brain.”
Sometimes he’ll drive down the street and pass corner after corner, the whole time thinking, “Who died there?”
When you live in a world where you can be shot at any moment, it becomes difficult to leave your house, to see your neighbors, to be part of the place where you live. Andre Dukes, a pastor representing the Northside Achievement Zone, says he’s officiated a lot of funerals for young people in north Minneapolis.
“There’s lots of isolation that happens when there’s violence and murder happening regularly. It’s difficult when there’s a lack of trust, when people fear for their safety, to play outside or walk to school without fear of being killed.”
The Center’s philosophy is that none of this is a predestined outcome, that it can all be avoided, and the answers are in the numbers. Its data has already been put to good use by law enforcement. It has more crime scene data than even the most experienced cop, which gives them a better idea of what to look for during investigations.
The real target for the Center’s research is lawmakers: people who can make the policy changes necessary to make killings less common.
But more often than not, the Center doesn’t have the ear of the people in charge. Conversations about police reform, gun control, and poverty are usually ruled by partisanship, not science. Even the Center’s gathering by the cathedral was a modest one: just a few speakers, some signs, and some T-shirts.
Still, seemingly insurmountable odds are no excuse when you believe you can save the world from tragedy. Spirits at the rally were up. People traded smiles and hugs. Sign-holders cheered every time a driver honked as she zipped by.
As long as the Center and its partners believe there is a chance they can end homicide, they are going to try – with hope, cheer, and 20 years of numbers.