Atop snow-slick Mount Curve Avenue, local internet personality Steve Taylor threw open the front door of one of the mansions opposite Thomas Lowry Park wearing a pair of dappled lizard shoes. He’s a leggy, unsmiling 37-year-old man with a business crew cut and the collar of his wool jacket flipped up.
Taylor is from Auckland, New Zealand. He followed a Minnesotan woman stateside in 2003 and now lives in Lowry Hill, whose City Council member, Lisa Goodman, advocates equipping police with more resources to deal with the recent surge in violent crimes — up 25% from last year citywide. He’s also a long- time realtor and landlord in Uptown, the domain of Council President Lisa Bender, who pledged to end the Minneapolis Police Department and reimagine public safety. Taylor views Goodman as one of the only pragmatists in City Hall and Bender as a misguided utopian.
He blasts this view liberally across the Uptown Crime Facebook group, a virtual neighborhood watch he started in June. The page now boasts over 15,000 members. Most are lurkers whose politics are impossible to pinpoint, but those who regularly weigh in agree with him that the defund faction of the council is “disconnected from reality.”
Calling police about a home invasion in the middle of the night “comes from a place of privilege,” Bender opined on CNN this summer — a take that riled Taylor. He believes that instead of getting rid of cops to erase inequities in the system, elected officials should be working to extend the benefits of police protection to everyone.
“For people in this area to want to feel safe, that’s not privilege. But if we make this area safe and we stop there, that’s privilege. Council members having security, that’s privilege,” Taylor says, referring to the $150,000 in public funds spent in June on private security for three council members after they received death threats.
“Everyone needs to be safe. No justice, no peace. No peace, no justice, right?” he asks provocatively, turning a sacred activist slogan on its head.
In some circles, Taylor and Uptown Crime have a less-than-stellar reputation. He’s well aware. Online, people call him “racist” and “bootlicker” and make fun of how he looks in Facebook photos. The Google reviews on his real estate business are a mess.
Part of it is because crime watch social media is notorious for devolving into sucking vortexes of racist, anti-city toxicity that trap people in reality-warping echo chambers that make light of police misconduct. To forestall that fate, Uptown Crime accepts only self-proclaimed Minneapolis residents who avow Black lives matter to them, bans national politics and encourages people to argue with fact and logic rather than ad hominem insults.
At the same time, Taylor takes a forceful stance against certain forms of protest. After a small group of election night demonstrators allegedly set fires and spray-painted “loot me” on Uptown businesses, he banned commenters who tried to debate the merits of it. Likewise, he detests the vandals who cemented an “Abolish MPD” sign to Bender’s front porch in August.
Just as harshly as he criticizes City Hall, Taylor is openly dismissive of traditional neighborhood associations, which he views as “mouthpieces for the City Council.” In October, he was kicked out of a virtual Lowry Hill East Neighborhood Association meeting for complaining about Bender in the chat. (No one is allowed to disparage individuals associated with LHENA, according to the neighborhood group’s code of conduct. Alicia Gibson, LHENA’s board president, said comments she made on Taylor’s Facebook page explaining the decision were deleted, but LHENA declined to provide a transcript of the chat.)
It isn’t always Taylor’s fault, but Uptown Crime’s user-generated content occasionally turns out to be false. A recent post accusing the Park Board of lavishing $70 million on bike lanes traveled far and wide, sparking much outrage, before being debunked. An oft-repeated complaint — that the City Council turned down $10 million in federal funds for traffic enforcement — apparently scrambled the fact that in March, the council decided not to apply for a $1.3 million federal grant to add 10 traffic cops. Another shocking crime update this November claimed the neighborhood fixture Uncommon Grounds had been robbed at gunpoint. No such thing happened, according to the coffee shop.
“I’m really torn because [Uptown Crime] was started by somebody who is not law enforcement, who is not trained in media. A general public person has every right to speak, right? But it can get worrisome, because I’ve heard some stories where people get very fear-based,” says Jill Osiecki Gleich, president of the Uptown Association, which represents the commercial district.
She takes amateur crime bulletins with a grain of salt because things heard over the police scanner are less informative than properly vetted reports from 5th Precinct staff, which include the resolutions to 911 calls. A blip on the police scanner about gunshots fired could end up being a car backfiring, for instance.
“I would be concerned if anyone was using a Facebook group as their main source of information,” added Emma Erdahl, president of the East Isles Residents Association’s board.
In mid-November, Taylor was the first to report that burglars had shattered the front door of Uptown restaurant Lake & Irving and cleaned out its bar and cash register. The security footage shows two people smashing bottles with abandon.
Chef/owner Chris Ikeda says he called police with some hesitation, knowing the 5th Precinct is severely short-staffed with only eight officers covering 20 neighborhoods some nights, compared with nine to 12 per shift in 2019. Cops showed up an hour and a half later.
Ikeda says that in his seven years on Lake Street, he’s never seen so many break-ins and violent carjackings.
To concerns that Uptown Crime gives the area a worse reputation than it deserves, which ultimately hurts businesses, Alejandro Victoria of Nico’s Tacos says he would rather his customers stay vigilant than underestimate risks.
“We have to be honest. Without a page like [Uptown Crime], there’s a lot of things that get covered [up],” Victoria says. “A lot of the people who are getting caught up as the victims of crime are unaware, because some people still have the feeling of Uptown being the way it always has been. Frankly, as much as I care about my business, I care more about the safety of individuals.”
Now and then, Taylor’s supporters suggest he run for City Council. That’s unlikely, given his support of Goodman. As the new father of a 2-month-old son, Taylor doesn’t have immediate ambitions to lead. Instead, he’s signed on to a coalition of Minneapolis residents called “Operation Safety Now,” which advocates long-term police reform and short- term support for Police Chief Medaria Arradondo. Its overriding purpose is to organize average residents — people who so far haven’t had activist training, funding and the ear of elected officials — to speak up on what they want from public safety.
Following the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer, residents are more distrustful of the MPD and the City Council is now divided over how to combat violence inside and outside the department. The embattled police chief has been on the defensive, portraying his department as just the surface layer of a complex ecosystem
of criminal justice, needed to stop Minneapolis’ immediate bleeding. Last year, some 6,700 emergency calls went unanswered due to staffing shortages. This year, the city’s minority neighborhoods are suffering the most from the more than 50% increase in homicides. Gun violence has been up in major cities across the country amid the pandemic and nationwide protests.
Bill Rodriguez, a spokesman for Operation Safety Now, says that after 30 years in Minneapolis, he only started paying serious attention to crime after his ex-wife experienced an early morning home invasion this June. That’s when he started following Uptown Crime and talking to Taylor, whom he found to be “thoughtful” and “frank.”
“He speaks his mind. He’s not from Minnesota, so Minnesota nice is not always a part of his repertoire,” Rodriguez says. “He calls a spade a spade, and I think that’s refreshing. It’s good to know where a person stands when you’re speaking about such potentially divisive issues like public safety.”