RNC protestors swarm ceremony, disrupt meeting
It was supposed to be a feel-good moment. Armed with a giant, $40,000 check made out to the Minneapolis Fire Department courtesy of Allianz Life Insurance, City Council President Barbara Johnson stood before cameras in council chambers prior to Friday's council meeting. To her left stood a beaming Mayor R.T. Rybak, flanked by Fire Chief Alex Jackson and three other firefighters.
That's when Jude Ortiz, a leader of Coldsnap Legal Collective, took to the podium unannounced to decry resolution R-248, passed by the council last month, which allows the MPD to confiscate recording devices and use rubber bullets at public assemblies (read: the Republican National Convention.)
"Whereas, the 8th Amendment to the United States constitution protects a citizen from cruel and unusual punishment and the Minneapolis—"
"Sir, you're out of order!" Johnson barked. Council members seated behind her exchanged looks and shifted in their chairs.
"I know. Whereby the City Council has decided to abdicate the protection of the right if the Minneapolis Police Department decides they would like to use rubber or plastic bullets—"
By now, Rybak had inched up directly in front of the podium, three feet from Ortiz. His subdued and polite tone was in contrast with his steely blue glare.
"Sir, could you please stop," Rybak asked. (It didn't sound like a question.)
Meanwhile, 13 activists swarmed up to the council members and handed them blue envelopes containing a letter denouncing the council's action. "You've been served!" they informed the bemused officials.
Two police officers sauntered up behind Ortiz and promptly arrested him. —Matt Snyders
The squatter next door
While Fannie May and Freddie Mac get billions of federal money to help them through their self-imposed rough spot, folks in north Minneapolis continue to wither in the sub-prime lending storm behind thin sheets of drywall. Since last December, banks have foreclosed on more than 200 homes in the Jordan and Hawthorne neighborhoods. This puts their total number of vacant lots well beyond 1,000.
Now, each time a house is foreclosed upon, a sticker the size of a sheet of letter paper gets affixed to the front door to indicate that this particular home is uninhabitable, and not a gathering place to watch the Twins game while grilling Ballpark franks.
Unfortunately, the signs also function as late-night infomercials to the poor. Their sun-bleached colors broadcast two simple words: free housing.
The city police find it difficult to keep the houses squatter-free.
"It's a little tough," says Sgt. Kelvin Pulphus of the Fourth Precinct. "Everybody in the city is having a problem with it. But we have so many problem properties up here that it makes it hard to control."
During a tour of the neighborhood last week, we spotted some squatters. Except it wasn't an overweight man carrying a paper bag of malt liquor—it was a young family sitting outside on the porch, staring at us as we drove past.
"This is worst I've seen things in 20 to 25 years," says Pulphus. "And I grew up in the south side of Chicago." —Bradley Campbell
The unusual suspects
Demetrius Roberts just can't stay out of trouble with the law. All told, the 33-year-old has been arrested in downtown Minneapolis at least 50 times for everything from consumption to "aggressive solicitation."
Roberts has the dubious honor of being the man the Minneapolis Police Department has made a mascot for the "Downtown 100," a pilot program proposed by city and county officials to bust downtown's top 100 "chronic" panhandlers, shoplifters, trespassers, and public urinators.
Officials are asking for $326,000 for a probation officer, paralegals, and two full-time prosecutors—all commissioned to do battle with this veritable League of Lesser Evil. —Jeff Severns Guntzel
Is it a bike or a kite?
Students from two private schools in Mendota Heights have created an electric motorcycle that would make Dr. Seuss proud.
It certainly made staff and faculty at MIT gasp when they saw the bike for the first time last month. The Boston school funded the project, and when the students rolled the bike out onstage, everyone agreed that nobody had seen anything like it before, said physics teacher Mark Westlake, who supervised the project.
Able to go 40 miles between charges, the motorcycle, which looks like an alien's bicycle, is perfect for the commuter. Westlake hopes to ride it to and from school as soon as they can figure out licensing with the DMV.
"The state has been a little dumbfounded what to do with it," Westlake says. "It's challenging because it's outside what would normally classify as a motorcycle.... I think they have to create a new form for us."
Westlake hopes to be zooming around the St. Paul suburb by next month. —Beth Walton
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