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Citizens' Forum: Assessing Crime
By Lynette Nyman
May 26, 1998
Click for audio RealAudio 2.0 14.4

Part of the Citizens' Forum series

Crime was the subject of the fourth Citizens' Forum on the Governor's race, recently held in four locations around the state. People from across the state gathered in Duluth, Minneapolis, St. Paul, and Mankato to discuss and develop questions for the candidates running for Governor of Minnesota. The forum is sponsored by Minnesota Public Radio, the Star Tribune, and KTCA Twin Cities Public Television.

THE PARTICIPANTS ATE THEIR DINNERS, sat down in their chairs, and then watched the teleconference screens at their respective sites. They listened as a panel of crime, public safety, and corrections professionals presented their views on crime in Minnesota. Professor James Tallen from Saint Olaf college said the state spends over a billion dollars annually in crime and justice-related matters, and yet there's an increasing need for more prisons. St. Paul Police Chief Bill Finney said the police must get away from a "hook and book" mentality and focus on crime prevention. The director of victim services in St. Louis County, Paul Gustad, said victims must get HIP - heard, informed, and present - in the criminal justice system. Then it was the one-hundred-plus citizens' turn. Bill English spoke from Lucille's Kitchen in North Minneapolis.

English: Our legislators, including governors, consistently bow to the wishes of the NRA, and refuse to listen to the overwhelming majority of us who want some form of gun control and definitely keeping guns out of the hands of children.

English said there needs to be serious consideration of difficult issues.

English: So I guess my question to the panel is, is this a viable approach to the reduction of violence, both in cities and in rural areas? The last three school shootings that received nation-wide notoriety were not children of color. And yet our news media continuously portrays most crime, violent crime, as the crime of black youth - black male youth in particular.

Once the teleconference ended, forum-goers, in each of their respective locations, worked together to create questions for the gubernatorial candidates. In Mankato, the threads of crime - intertwined with perceptions of race - continued. Gary Plym has lived in south central Minnesota for twenty years.

Plym: In the first ten years that I lived here, I never seen or heard any business about gangs. I don't think my head was in the sand. I just didn't hear or see it. And there was no graffiti all over the signs and all over the bridges, and what have you, and we didn't have to have a task force that dealt specifically with gang violence. In the second ten years that I've lived here, more so the last five, these problems have cropped up. At the same time, we've had a more diverse people living in this town. Whether or not it's connected, I don't know, but it would make you surmise that, wouldn't it?

Orliss Kringler: Some people say that, well, yeah... you're saying that these people of color are coming in and causing problems.

Orliss Kringler, once a social worker, is a customer service representative from St. Peter.

Kringler: I don't so much as that's a problem as us people here, whatever we may be, not being very inclusive and receptive. And we do have people of color in Mankato... because that they are very hidden in a sense that they have their own community, I guess because of some of these problems and not being terribly welcoming, I see this as almost, what are we going to do as far as being good neighbors and being receptive and being welcoming?

Participant: It seems like an impossible question... or maybe we could skip it an go to another question... yeah, let's do that.

Frustrated, the group scraps this hard question and moves on to others. After some discussion, the participants crafted their final questions for the gubernatorial candidates.

Participant: Domestic abuse is a huge problem in society. What as a governor would you do to change this situation for the better, and be specific.... Our second question was, so far our intervention programs, like DARE, haven't worked. How are we going to evaluate current programs and new ones?

Participant: We spend money educating children as early as kindergarten about drugs and a little later about AIDS and venereal disease control... while they are able to grasp right and wrong very early. Why don't we have crime or prevention of it brought up in early grades?

Overall, the participants in Mankato, a white and largely republican group, were pleased with their results. Gordon Hovde from Albert Lea says thinking about the issues now - long before the election - is the way to go.

Hovde: I think it's nice to know that we're entering questions to the gubernatorial candidates before they go in so I can get some questions to them so that I can evaluate them as a candidate and as who I might vote for ahead of time. Not afterwards. They're in power and saying, "well, I don't think you're doing a good job." Now I've got a chance to say, "here's what I'd like you to answer," so I've got some hopes they'll do a good job.

The next Citizens' Forum on the Governor's race will focus on poverty and welfare.