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Jordan Journal
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A white van near Irving Ave. and 26th is surrounded by several police cars and dozens of police officers. The cops had blocked off the street between James and Irving. (Brandt Williams)
A recent shooting death in the Jordan neighborhood of north Minneapolis is testing the resolve of residents who are working to make the area a safer place to live. Some neighbors are formulating new ideas of how they can keep crime and hopelessness from taking over. But at the same time, some have admitted that the shooting illustrates how little has changed and say they are considering moving out. Minnesota Public Radio reporter Brandt Williams lives in the Jordan neighborhood in north Minneapolis and writes some observations.

St. Paul, Minn. — Friday, May 9th, 2003

On my way home from work yesterday, I was forced to drive around several detours of police cars and yellow crime scene tape. After some negotiation around side streets I made it home via the end of the alley that wasn't blocked off. I immediately walked to the front of my house to see yellow tape stretched all the way down Knox Avenue barring any traffic from 26th to 27th. When I walked down the sidewalk toward a group of officers standing five houses down, I was intercepted by a female police officer who told me I couldn't walk down there because I was in a crime scene. I asked her what happened and she said there was a shooting but wouldn't offer any more information than that.

I walked inside the house, got my recording gear and camera and headed out the back door toward the alley and up to 26th Avenue to see what I could see. There was a white van about a block away near Irving (Minneapolis streets west of Lyndale Ave. are in alphabetical order so it goes Irving, James, Knox - where I live) surrounded by several police cars and dozens of police officers. The cops had blocked off the street between James and Irving so we couldn't get too close, so I asked a few bystanders if they knew what was going on.

One man told me he saw a dead body in the van but he said now he couldn't see it anymore because the police had covered it up. But that was all he knew. His voice, like most of the other 20 or 30 other people in the immediate vicinity was relatively calm. He offered no condemnation of what was most likely another young black man shot down. But he did condemn the police shooting and killing of a young man the day before on West Broadway - a shooting which the police say was justified because the man pinned an officer in the door of his SUV and dragged him down the street.

I found out later that the dead man in the white van was shot about four houses away from my house. His companion who was driving sped away and made it to the corner of 26th and Irving where they found a police officer and asked for help.


This latest incident is the third shooting within a several block area from my home in the last few weeks. A Hmong teenager was killed on 26th and Newton (4 blocks away - Knox, Logan, Morgan, Newton); just last week a young black male was shot in the butt just across the street from the corner store on 26th and Knox. I was in my back yard at the time when the shots were fired. Had I been in the front yard, I may have been an eyewitness.

When I walked to the front of the house (after calling 911) I expected to see people running from the scene. Instead, there were people calmly going about their business. It reminded me of a comment made by NPR war correspondent Anne Garrels who was stationed in Baghdad during the bombing. She said most Iraqis she talked to became accustomed to the bombing because it was so surgical. They did not fear it because they knew those bombs weren't for them.

Maybe we're becoming like those Iraqis. The police say in most of these cases the shooter and victim know each other. Of course, it's still not real safe to be in the immediate vicinity of flying bullets. Stray bullets kill unintended victims as well as their targets. Just last year in Minneapolis, Ethan Graham and Tyesha Edwards met that fate.


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Image Don and Sondra Samuels

Today city councilmember Don Samuels is holding a vigil on the northwest corner of 26th and Knox - right next to the Big Stop foods parking lot. Don made a campaign promise to sit vigil near the site of every homicide which occurs in his ward. So far, he has had five vigils in five weeks. During the day long vigils, he doesn't eat anything. He just drinks water.

Don and his wife Sondra, have taped a couple signs to the Big Stop foods signpost that decry the violence that killed Darryl Lumpkin who was 28 years old. They sit with Don's aid Becky and a few other neighbors under a canopy to protect them from the rain. Occasionally, they interact with a few of the young black males who make their way to and from the store.

The young men walk right past the signs and don't appear to notice them. Though they are probably high school age, they are not in school and probably not employed. One of my neighbors points to a young man in a red and white hockey jersey, matching red cap and sweat pants and identifies him as a well-known drug dealer.

Jonathan Odell is sitting under the canopy at the vigil. He recently moved to the neighborhood and I interview him for my story and he tells me why he wants to live here.

Jonathan is white and he is gay. He says he was sold on Jordan after talking with Don Samuels and hearing him talk about his hope for the community. Jonathan used to live in Kenwood, a neighborhood with considerably less crime and considerably larger and more expensive homes. He says he likes the fact that in Jordan, he is a minority. Jonathan says he likes the fact that people are mobile in the neighborhood. People walk up and down the streets, talk to each other in their front yards. And children run around on the streets, sidewalks and alleys. He says in Kenwood, people weren't nearly as friendly or present.

Jonathan has to split because he is preparing his home for an open house. His parents have flown up from Mississippi for the event. Apparently they arrived soon after the yellow 'crime scene' police tape was taken down. His house is just two or three houses away from where the shooting took place. Jonathan didn't hear the gun shots because he had his vacuum cleaner going.

He says yesterday's shooting hasn't really made him afraid to live here, but he says he's more concerned that his parents will worry about him.

The Party

The shooting was on the minds of many of the neighbors who came to help Jonathan celebrate his new home. However the people happily chatting away in the beautiful, two story home with hardwood floors and two sunrooms, are here to party.

Most of the talk this evening is about Jonathan's house and how he's decorated it. But, as with most of our gatherings, talk turns quickly to "the struggle." Some are talking about new methods of deterring drug buyers from driving through the area to conduct business. We talk about using undercover police officers to watch deals occur and then bust the buyers.

Outside, a gaggle of little girls chase each other, shrieking, around the back yard. I strike up a conversation with Dennis Plante who lives across the alley from Jonathan. Dennis is also white, and he is a contractor and did some free work in Jonathan's home. He even fixed Jonathan's warped chain link fence.

Dennis and his wife Greta, who is part white, African American and Native American, have lived in Jordan since the mid 90s. He talks about his frustration about the persistence of the problems in the area. And we talk about solutions. Many of the neighbors believe that poverty is at the heart of the problem here. There is a concentration of poor black people - some, we suspect - come from generations of poverty.

We talk about ways the city could be rezoned to spread affordable housing across the city - even to neighborhoods like Kenwood. Maybe it would take a lawsuit, like the suit over the housing projects near Lyndale and Olson Memorial Highway. Those homes were torn down and now the whole area is being rebuilt with mixed-income housing.

Dennis says many of the young black men he interacts with don't have the same kind of choices he had when he was their age. He says they need to see there are things to do besides hang out, sell drugs and be a nuisance. Dennis and Greta hire some of these young guys to do odd jobs and make honest money.

But Dennis says he's getting tired of fighting. He likens his situation to that of the little Dutch boy who holds back the flood waters by putting his finger in a hole in the dike. "There's too many holes to plug," he says.

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Image Yard work

Dennis says he and Greta are considering moving back to Maine where he's from.

"Springtime in the hood" Saturday morning, May 10, 2003

Mowing my front lawn always gets me down.

This is the third summer I've been at it, and my lawn is still full of weeds and bare patches. I have to strain to get my manual lawn mower through the tall grass and weeds. I'm frequently abruptly halted as the mower blades catch on some foreign object in the grass. I constantly have to stop and pick up empty bags of chips and candy bars which have blown onto the yard. Sometimes I come across empty beer bottles which have obviously been thrown there. I even found a pot pipe on the grass while raking after the snow first melted.

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Image My tulip garden

The front lawn also reminds me of how intractable the problems of the neighborhood are. I used to say, the drug dealers are like weeds, you pluck one out and another one grows in its place. But these guys are not the weeds themselves. They are maybe a leaf of a much larger plant. Call it racism, poverty, hopelessness. But it's obvious that the police presence and our efforts to keep drug buyers out of the area don't begin to get at the roots of this weed.

While I toil away on my lawn, I notice two of my neighbors are up at the corner of 26th and Knox pulling weeds out of the community garden. Dennis Wagner, who is white, confronts a black teenager who is walking from the store carrying a styrofoam container of chicken. (Those styrofoam containers wind up littering the whole neighborhood - actually the people who throw them away are the ones littering the neighborhood.) I can't hear what they're saying, but Dennis is pointing at the guy, and the guy is taking a defensive posture by raising his arms.

Later, I walk up to the corner to talk to my neighbor. Dennis says he confronted the guy after he saw him turn a drug deal down the street. He says the kid told him not to come down on him so hard, because that was the first time he ever sold drugs. "Yeah, right!" Dennis scoffs.

Dennis and my neighbor from across the alley, Kelly Phillips start talking about the latest trouble in the neighborhood. Kelly, a white college student and budding neighborhood organizer is feeling pessimistic and says she's close to giving up. She says she gets tired of being afraid to sit in her front yard or walk down the block and talks about moving. Then she adds that she hopes it's just a phase she'll recover from.

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Image New homes

Dennis, who's been in the neighborhood for almost 20 years, tries to fortify her resolve. He tells her she can't let fear run her life. And he adds that he lives by the following creedo: "Don't let the sons of bitches get you down," he laughs.

However, Kelly isn't quite convinced and asks if she can cut through my yard to get to her house. There is a group of dealers hanging out on the corner of 26th and James that she would have to pass by and she says she doesn't want their attention.

Sunday, May 11, 2003

Today is cold and wet and rainy. The corner is quiet this Sunday morning, although on a nicer day there are drug dealers out there before most people are up and going to church. My wife and I are off to east St. Paul to see her family on Mother's Day. While we are out there, we drive by a couple houses for sale in west St. Paul, where prices are comparable to our neighborhood. This will most likely be our last summer in this house.

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Image Street signs

Monday, May 12, 2003

Driving home down 26th I see groups of young black men on corners, starting at Humboldt Ave., signal to passing cars that they are selling weed. Further down the street on James Ave. a group of about 10 young men and women stand around. A few of them are trying to flag down cars. Twenty-six and Knox is quiet, but all the action has spread west down 26th.

Tuesday, May 13, 2003 (see Monday's entry)

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