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Minneapolis council member continues anti-violence vigil
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Minneapolis City Councilmember Don Samuels is living and working from a tent in the Jordan neighborhood for the rest of the week, to call attention to increasing violence in that part of the city. (MPR Photo/Brandt Williams)
Minneapolis police officials say they are still looking for suspects in the shooting of a 19-month-old girl Tuesday night. They say Deasha Hazley was sitting in her living room with her family when two gunmen approached the house and fired through a window. The incident was one of several shootings in the same north Minneapolis neighborhood in the last week. City officials are renewing their call for tougher law enforcement, and neighborhood leaders are calling on city residents to lend a hand.

Minneapolis, Minn. — Since he took office in February, Minneapolis City Councilmember Don Samuels has been holding day-long vigils and fasts near the sites of homicides in his ward. But recent violence has led Samuels to set up a tent in the middle of the Jordan neighborhood and sleep and work from the site until Sunday. All while going without food.

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Image Home away from home

"The homicides that are taking place, combined with the weight of my responsibility as a councilmember to deliver safety and a good quality of life to the community -- it just makes you not want to eat," says Samuels.

The latest incidents of violence may not have resulted in homicides, but have caused serious injury. Samuels says Wednesday, a teenage boy was shot in the back and will likely lose a kidney. On the same day, a 13-year-old boy was shot in the neck across the river in northeast Minneapolis. On Sunday, three men were shot just a few blocks from where Samuels is holding his vigil.

Samuels and other city leaders are placing much of the blame on decisions made at the Capitol.

"The naive and stubborn pledge of no new taxes, which wreaked havoc on our LGA, which funds our public safety, is now falling with a heavy hand on our community. Really, the poor and the vulnerable are suffering first," Samuels says.

The homicides that are taking place, combined with the weight of my responsibility as a councilmember to deliver safety and a good quality of life to the community -- it just makes you not want to eat.
- Councilmember Don Samuels

Police officers were spared layoffs in the latest round of city budget cuts. But the department did have to make cuts to several programs, including its Community Crime Prevention program.

Samuels called for the police department to add five foot patrol officers to walk through the Jordan neighborhood 24 hours a day. And he called for the restoration of nearly $4 million in funding for community probation officers.

"Our state Legislature really needs to go back and look at the gutting of the state gang strike force," says Minneapolis Police Chief Robert Olson.

Olson is the new chair of the state's gang strike force. He says anti-gang programs are needed to help fight crime in neighborhoods like Jordan. Olson says the strike force needs to have its funding restored.

"They'll actually be able to expand, and departments like Minneapolis, Hennepin County Sheriff, Ramsey, St. Paul, will be able to put on the strike force the number of officers that really need to be there," Olson says, "to cut the heart out of these vicious gangs who could care less about the problems we're talking about today."

Olson added that he didn't know if the department would be able to afford the new foot patrols. However, he says the city has been in close contact with Public Safety Commissioner Rich Stanek. He says Stanek, who is also a Minneapolis police officer, is willing to find other state resources to support crime fighting efforts in the city.

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Image Invitation to a neighborhood party

V.J. Smith from the anti-violence activist group MAD DADS hands flyers to cars stopping at the corner of 26th and Knox Ave. The flyers advertise a barbecue that will be held Friday night at the Jordan Community Garden, just a few feet from where Smith is standing.

At the barbecue people will be able to sign up for citizen foot patrols. Jonathan Palmer, the new head of the Jordan Area Community Council, says police officers need help.

"We will have, over the next three months, foot patrols going out, coordinating efforts to make sure that people are watching for activity, contacting the police, getting the police working with them," says Palmer. "The police are out here every day. We want to coordinate with them, and make sure that all of our efforts are driven towards eradicating the crime and the drug dealing that is going on here."

Samuels says he is only breaking his fast because he has to fly to a funeral in Jamaica on Monday morning. He says he'll go back on his fast if the demands he called for are not in place by the time he gets back.

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