Twin Cities teens learn to live with the fear of gun violence

For some young people, a deadly week in the Twin Cities is nothing new.

For some young people, a deadly week in the Twin Cities is nothing new.

When Kenneth Calaun was 18, his mother kicked him out of their home one night for having his girlfriend over. It was against her rules, but Calaun’s girlfriend didn’t have anywhere else to stay. The two wandered the streets of their Robbinsdale neighborhood, trying to find a friend who would take them in.

Two younger boys asked if they wanted to buy some weed. Calaun declined.  

The boys circled around the block and met the couple again. This time one pulled a gun on Calaun’s girlfriend and demanded they empty their pockets. Calaun stepped in front of her and gave the boys everything he had, which wasn’t much. One reached for him to double check and Calaun shoved him off. The other fired. A bullet tore into his leg.

“I’m fine now, and I don’t hold a grudge against anyone because what can I do?” Calaun reflects. “These young kids out there, they don’t have any money, but they have these guns, so they think they’ll make some easy money with it.”

He used to be one of them, he says – “Young, dumb, on the streets, carrying guns.”

Calaun was shot the second time that same year. He was walking down the street when some guys driving by rolled down the window and fired. He was hit in the stomach for being in the wrong place, wrong time, he says.

That year, he didn’t leave the house much, even after intensive rehab got him back on his feet. He was always thinking about what could happen out there. He had to tell himself that nobody was targeting him, and that people don’t just get shot all the time.

“But there always was that fear of looking over your shoulder,” Calaun says. “But that’s anybody, anybody that’s sane. They should be looking over their shoulder.”

A recent spike in gun violence left eight dead within the span of a week. As police round up suspects one by one, they’re able to shed some light on what happened to the victims in their final moments. But for some young people, how to feel safe in their own neighborhoods is something they have to figure out on their own.

Calaun knew Jessica St. Marie, the young woman shot and killed at the East Lake bus shelter on October 13. “She had the greatest personality, told the best jokes,” he says. “When I used to go downtown all the time, she always used to greet me with a smile. That hit me real hard.”

At a Sunday morning youth group in north Minneapolis, Ferome Brown of Protect Minnesota leads a team of about 15 teenagers in a discussion about gun violence. Nearly everybody in the room has had a close friend or family member fall victim, has seen a killing up close, or has been threatened with a gun at some point.

Tyron Jenkins said he was just nine when he was hit the first time. He was living in Chicago, eating in the den when a drive-by scored the side of his house with bullet holes. He was struck in the leg. His family moved to Minneapolis in part to get away from the violence.

It didn’t exactly work out. He was 19 when he got caught in the crossfire of a random gang dispute, he says.

One 16-year-old girl, who asked not to be named, was just nine when she witnessed her first homicide. She was playing in the yard with a little cousin when a pickup truck came flying down the block. Two people were inside, fighting over a gun that went off just as it passed by her house. She found out later that a bounty hunter had been shot in the head.

“I would get scared to walk to the store without an adult, or an older teen,” she said. “I barely felt comfortable even going outside at the time, unless I’m getting in the car. I kept having visions of seeing it happen and re-happen, over and over again.”

When she was 14, her older brother was shot in the leg, the girl said. One of his friends had been killed by police, so they were having a celebration in his memory. Just as he was stepping off a party bus, someone opened fire.  

“My little brother, he always tells me that I need to be safe, knowing it could be me getting shot, snatched up and hurt,” the girl says. But she doesn’t feel the need to constantly watch her surroundings. She’s learned that something could happen anywhere, anytime. “You realize that whatever you try to avoid, you gotta live your daily life. Life right now, it’s set up for especially young people to get killed at an early age.”