Southwest group to stage discussion on North-side violence

Gangbangers in Jordan may not live in this part of town, but Councilmember argues their crimes ripple into Southwest

It seems as if nearly every day headlines recount gang violence in Minneapolis. The people in the stories usually don't have Southwest addresses, but the impact of the bullets expended elsewhere are felt in this part of town, too.

City Councilmember Don Samuels (3rd Ward) will discuss the much-publicized violence in his part of town -- the North-side Jordan neighborhood -- when the "After the Election 2003" seminar series resumes Tuesday, Sept. 16 from 7 to 9 p.m. at Southwest High School, 3414 W. 47th St.

Samuels said one reason people in Southwest should be concerned about the shootings in Jordan is that the image of the city is at stake.

"When you're talking about livable cities, crime and safety are always two of the big, big factors in terms of whether or not people are moving there and businesses are coming in," he said. "What image does the word 'Minneapolis' conjure up in people's minds? Is it a flash of violence on CNN?

"I know that that's not the image Minneapolis wants to create, that there are people doing really well. Then there's the rest of the population that's living a greatly inferior lifestyle, but it's OK with everybody else.

"I think that's kind of like the Republican way of seeing the world, which Minneapolis has historically not been. Where you have fat cats, trickle-down, and boostrap-pulling-up and other insensitivities that have never been a part of the culture of Minneapolis. If we continue to celebrate our nice areas while the newspapers are full of tragedy in challenged areas, we will begin to develop into that kind of community."

After a 19-month-old girl was hit by a gangbanger's stray bullet in Jordan this summer, Samuels camped in a tent and fasted for five days in the neighborhood to draw attention to the violence. Gov. Tim Pawlenty eventually sent a dozen state troopers to help patrol areas in North and South Minneapolis.

The "After the Election 2003" seminar series is part of Getting to the Bottom of the Ballot, a Southwest effort formed after the 2001 city elections to help people to cast informed votes from the top of the ballot to the very bottom.

"There's a significant dropoff rate in voter turnout for local elections," sid Michelle Martin, Getting to the Bottom of the Ballot project coordinator. "They come and vote for president and governor and whatever else is at the top of the ballot, and then tend to decline significantly at the bottom -- City Council, Park Board, Library Board, School Board. All the local elections -- even in Southwest with our high voter turnout -- are all around 30 percent."

Martin said she and her group hope to create discussions among community leaders and residents so that both learn from each other.

"It occurred to us that it would be beneficial to have people who live in pretty much a nonimpacted area [such as Southwest] to have a dialogue with one of the leaders of the impacted area," she said.

Samuels agreed. "I've been so concentrated and dedicated all my life to the inner city…I've kind of ignored the communities that do well," he said. "I usually do not engage that community in any kind of group-form, so I expect to discover some of the ways that people think and how they respond to the communities I connect with more and am more vested in."

The Bottom of the Ballot group has held seminars on the Minneapolis budget, public transportation and school district funding problems.

"If people get involved with projects and issues year-round that relate to the bottom of the ballot -- local issues -- there's a greater likelihood that they'll be connected to the issues when it comes time to vote," Martin said.

Getting to the Bottom of the Ballot is sponsored by Southwest Citizens for Civic Engagement, a coalition of the Fulton, Linden Hills, Kingfield, Lynnhurst, Kenny, Armatage and Windom neighborhood associations.