Violent attacks leave police, neighbors rattledby Laura Yuen, Minnesota Public Radio
Two recent attacks at Lake Phalen in St. Paul have rattled police and neighbors alike. On Friday, a woman was beaten while walking around the lake after midnight. Three days later, three young males attacked a married couple. Officers have arrested seven young people in connection with the second beating.
The assaults have made St. Paul police wonder if youth violence is on the rise.
St. Paul, Minn. — The most recent incident Monday night appears to be gang-related. Police say a group of young males approached the couple around 7 p.m. and asked the husband if he was in a gang. The man said he wasn't; he was just walking around the lake with his wife.
The attackers apparently didn't like the answer. They punched the woman in the face and beat her husband with an aluminum bat.
St. Paul Police Chief John Harrington says that kind of senseless and savage behavior makes him think that youth violence may be climbing in the Twin Cities.
"What I do seem to see is a surge in the phenomenon we saw a decade or so ago, of random violent behavior that doesn't seem to have anything to do with the gangs, but with disorderly youth that are acting out in a much more aggressive way than we've seen in a while," said Harrington. "While this doesn't rise to the level case of the Central Park jogger, where the terms 'wilding' and 'feral youth' were bandied about in New York, in some ways it has some of the same flavor to it."
Harrington says he's heard of violent episodes in Minneapolis parks as well.
Police say violent crime is down in St. Paul. However, in response to the Lake Phalen attacks, Harrington and his department are discussing tools like curfew and truancy enforcement -- anything to help prevent juvenile violence.
At a National Night Out get-together yesterday evening just a few blocks from Lake Phalen, some neighbors were wondering the same thing: Are teen-agers getting more dangerous?
Even the traditional prank of ding-dong-ditch has gotten more sinister, it seems. Just the other night, David Brennhofer says a bunch of kids rang his doorbell and left him with a stinking, burning bag.
"They put a bag on our stoop with stuff on the bottom of it. I don't want to get too graphic on the radio, but it was dog feces, we think. And they lit it on fire and ran," said Brennhofer.
Brennhofer says he thinks the kids were retaliating against his wife, who swerved her car around a group of teens that was loitering on the street. He says the prank made him feel hurt and angry.
"I know they're kids, but kids that do that sort of thing, in my opinion, get worse down the road," said Brennhofer. "Hopefully, [parents] can put a stop to that before it happens, and say, 'Hey, this is not the right sort of thing to do.'"
James and Mary Lou Barnett say they're troubled by the Phalen attacks. They've lived in the neighborhood for 42 years.
"As long as we lived around here, I've never heard anything like that before. That kind of worries you or bothers you. They've had trouble over there, but not like that. It's usually amongst themselves. They don't pick on a guy walking around the lake," said Barnett.
Mary Lou says the whole point of National Night Out is to feel some ownership in protecting the people who live on your block.
"It's good to get all the neighbors together and allow everyone to get to know each other," said Mary Lou.
"It's hard to mug somebody you know," said James.
Still, many neighbors say they're taking extra care to protect themselves. One couple said they've instructed their children's nanny not to take the kids out for walks until the two cases get cleared up.
Many hope that the seven people in custody after Monday's attack were also responsible for the first one. Police think the two incidents are related, but they're still investigating. Both assaults involved three young Asian males with a baseball bat.
Making the story more horrific is the fact that the first victim is seriously ill with cancer. A good friend who asked to be identified only by her first name Cathy, says her friend is recovering well from the attack. And Cathy says she still feels safe in her neighborhood.
"We walk around the lake, and it's always been safe. I go everywhere on the East Side, and I'm not afraid. People always say, 'Aren't you afraid?' I'm not. I grew up here, and it's always been a strong community. People have always helped each other and watched out for each other."
But she says that kind of community watch is needed now more than ever.
- Morning Edition, 08/06/2008, 7:53 a.m.