North Minneapolis neighbors march, pray to end violenceby Rupa Shenoy, Minnesota Public Radio
Minneapolis, Minn — The Minneapolis Police Department Homicide Unit is investigating the case of a 23-year-old man found dead in a south side alley early Sunday morning from a gunshot wound.
It was the latest in a string of shootings that have killed several young men in Minneapolis, and north Minneapolis residents gathered this weekend at several events in hopes of raising a barrier against what feels like a rising tide of violence.
North side City Councilman Don Samuels wore all white for one prayer walk through north Minneapolis on Sunday. His young daughter walked beside him, carrying a paper cut-out of a yellow flower about half her height. Samuels said last week's shootings of a 13-year-old and a 14-year-old took the neighborhood by surprise.
"For children of this age to be involved in both sides of homicidal violence, it's a very new thing," Samuels said.
He thinks gangs have started recruiting younger kids, arming them with guns they fire because of trifling conflicts, such as the kind of t-shirt another kid is wearing. He speculated that maybe just 20 boys in total are terrorizing the neighborhood.
The prayer walk of about 100 people of all races was meant to demonstrate that the larger community is not scared. They paused in the southeast corner of North Commons Park, near where one of the boys was shot. Annette Dillard stood in a circle in the middle of the crowd to say a prayer for north Minneapolis' children.
"They don't have any hope, father God. They've been robbed of hope. They go to school and can't really read. They don't know how to do the math. They don't even know if they want to live past 18 or 19," she said. "We take authority over that right now. In Jesus' name, we stand here as mothers, fathers, aunts, uncles, cousins. We're a family, father God."
Organizer Mary Johnson appealed to the group.
"I just want to interrupt for a moment," she said. "Is there a young person here who will come forward and pray for the youth? A young person? You just have to be a little younger than me."
But no one came forward. And when the march continued on to another corner of the park, a group of teenagers in their mid- to late-teens stayed behind. They said they felt like they were being blamed for the violence. Barry Halberg said there was no way for him to change a situation caused by other kids.
"Whatever they do is whatever they do," he said. "We can't change anything anybody's going to do. They choose to walk down the street and shoot somebody--it's their choice."
The group of kids eventually followed the rest of the marchers to the other side of the park. The boys held back. They sat under a tree at the top of a hill and watched as the others joined a crowd of people listening to speakers below calling for peace and unity in the neighborhood.
K.G. Wilson, founder of Hope Ministries, walked up the hill to talk to the boys.
"This is about y'all, man. You all sitting back here for what? This wasn't an old person that got killed. This is a young person got killed," he said. "You're young people, man. Come on man, let's go. Come on man, I'm begging y'all."
As he spoke the boys stared straight ahead, stony-faced. But eventually they got up and without speaking walked down the hill to join the crowd. Later, Wilson explained the boys listen to him because he's a former gang chief from Chicago. Wilson says adults are going to have to get tough on kids in the neighborhood if they really want to achieve peace and unity.
"This isn't white killing black or black killing white. Am I right? No, it's black on black. So this isn't about race," he said. "We're killing each other."
DeVon Vance, one of the boys who had been at the top of the hill, said Wilson was right to tell the teenagers to get involved.
"We don't like to get up in front of crowds and express our feelings," he said, adding that by urging the kids to join the cause, it might help the community change. "We're lost for words. We lost too many brothers out here. It's hard to speak."
But Vance said at the same time, it's also getting harder to keep quiet.
- Morning Edition, 08/29/2011, 7:20 a.m.