The scene is rather ugly, captured by a Metro Transit security camera. Two kids on bikes approach a wheelchair-bound man on the Green Line platform near Rice Street in St. Paul. They begin grabbing at his pockets. The man can't defend himself.
One throws a punch that doesn't connect, but the wheelchair tumbles backward. The kids steal his phone and bike away.
A stolen phone isn't a major incident in the annals of crime. But the fact that two unidentified 14-year-olds would prey on a helpless man speaks to the ugliness that's been St. Paul over the past month.
There have been eight murders in the city since August. Off-duty fireman Tom Harrigan was killed in his East Side home. RayVell Carter was shot to death while leaving a Bible study class in Summit-University. Javier Yanez, a father of four, was murdered outside his East Side home while trying to help victims of a car crash. The driver of one car inexplicably opened fire.
Then there was the case of Ronald Davis, who rammed the squad car of Officer Steve Mattson and charged him with a knife. Mattson shot him to death.
St. Paul is on pace for its highest murder rate in 20 years. But while the latest spree might seem alarming, the incidents appear to be more anomaly than trend. While murders are up, shots fired and other violent crimes are actually down from last year. Recent years have registered the standard fluctuations of the life in the city.
Blame the usual suspects: drugs, gangs, and Minnesota's lax gun buying laws. Repeated studies have shown a distinct correlation between the easy availability of guns and murder rates. While other states rush to invoke universal background checks, those efforts have been blocked in the Republican Senate. Last year alone, Minnesotans listed 28,818 guns for sale on Armslist.com, no background check required.
In the meantime, St. Paul is suffering from the same budget woes as Minneapolis. The city is trying to beef up homicide and gang staffing, but it can't afford to just throw more cops at the matter. Faced with a $17 million shortfall, Mayor Melvin Carter has actually proposed cutting five officers next year.
None of this sits well with police. They're being pressed to do more with neighborhood relations and things like mental health crises and overdoses, while still keeping up with more traditional duties, leaving them unable to always immediately respond to emergency calls.
As union president Paul Kuntz told WCCO, “You don’t have a time to take a breath. You’re just going from call to call and you’re not providing the appropriate amount of service for people that actually need it or deserve it.”