Organizing a troubled block

Lyndale residents work to curb crime on the 3000 block of Pleasant Avenue

LYNDALE — Prostitution, drug dealing and gang violence were already prevalent on the 3000 block of Pleasant Avenue when Angela Harbin moved into an apartment a block south six years ago.

A self-proclaimed survivor of all three activities, Harbin, now 43, wasn’t afraid to confront the individuals who were causing the problems — not to yell at them, but to offer help in an attempt to make the street safe in a peaceful way.

“We all go through a hard situation in our life, but it’s the choices that we make that determine if we grow or fail,” Harbin said. “Sometimes when you know that you have support, it kind of makes a difference in what you choose.”

Half a dozen years later, Harbin, who neighbors know as Ms. Angie, is still working on making the area safer, but it’s a constant battle. A mid-May shooting death on the 3000 block of Pleasant frustrated her so much that she had it closed off for part of a day in June to host a community get-together. Harbin and other community members hope to eventually unite the block — which is culturally diverse and comprised mostly of rental properties — against crime, something that has been difficult to do in the past.

Minneapolis Police recognize the block as one of the more problematic in Southwest, said Crime Prevention Specialist Tom Thompson of the 5th Precinct. Police have received 73 calls to the block since March 26 compared to 55 calls to the 3000 block of Pillsbury Avenue to the east and 50 to the 3000 block of Grand Avenue to the west. Reasons for calls to Pleasant have ranged from suspicious people and loud music to assaults, narcotics and shootings.

Thompson, who attended Harbin’s event, said those crimes could come to a stop if the community pulls together.

Frequent frustrations

Ester Killion, 46, is hesitant to let her 9-year-old grandson, Thomas Perry, play in the font yard of her apartment building on the 3000 block of Pleasant.

“I let him out in the back,” she said. “I’m not crazy about him being out in the front because there have been drive-bys.”

As she stood in front of her building during Harbin’s community function, Killion pointed to a window that was shot out a couple years ago and talked about a young man who was killed in front of the door. She said some of the neighborhood problems have entered her building. She’s seen people doing drugs in the laundry room and recalled a time when a group of people tried to turn the building into a sort-of casino.

Killion said criminal activity of some type happens in just about every building on the block, which makes neighbors afraid to get to know one another.

“I think given the fact that we don’t know who [the crimes are] coming from or where it’s coming from, we’re leery about making ourselves known or just coming across or being friends,” she said.

The fear and suspicion also make organizing difficult. Killion said she’s certain someone on the block would call the police if she tried to go door-to-door to spread information or put together a meeting.

“They’re going to think it’s got something to do with drugs or prostitution,” she said.

Gesus Garcia, 28, who lives in the same building as Killion, said all of the block’s problems seem to be gang related. It’s not uncommon to see large groups of males parking on the block at any hour of the day, he said. Sometimes the groups get into fights, making the street an unwelcome place to be.

“Every problem here is these guys,” said Garcia, who peeked out his door at people mingling up the street during Harbin’s event.

Few neighbors turned out for the block gathering, even after members of Men Against Destruction Defending Against Drugs and Social Disorder (MAD DADS) started urging people to come out with a megaphone.

Block resident Shawn Allison, 57, said cultural barriers contribute to the seclusion of some residents.

“A lot of people up the block are Hispanic and Somali and they have no idea what’s going on,” Allison said. “Even with the guy walking up and down the block with a megaphone telling them to come on out and get some free food, listen to some music, converse — still a lot of them don’t relate or don’t understand what he’s even saying.”

Allison has lived near the corner of Lake Street and Pleasant for more than a decade and said aside from a couple years of relative calm, the crime issues have been almost nonstop. He said he has seen drug dealing and prostitution in front of his house and shootings across the street in the Wendy’s parking lot.

Allison said he doesn’t call 911 much because people are always moving quickly through the neighborhood and police usually don’t arrive in time to make an arrest. Other residents were also frustrated with police response.

Luther Krueger, chairman of the Lyndale Neighborhood Association’s Crime and Drug Committee and a crime prevention specialist Downtown, said residents should never hesitate to call 911 because police will show up and often can take some action, even if its not an arrest. They can kick a suspicious person out of an area, for example.

Thompson said he was concerned that some residents might not want to call the police because they feel intimidated by wrongdoers in the area.

“If we can get the folks who live on the block to work with us and not be afraid to talk to us, I think we could solve a lot of problems,” he said.

Krueger said another potential problem on the 3000 block of Pleasant is constant turnover of renters and getting landlords to screen tenants.

Michael Montrose, an active member of the Lyndale Neighborhood Association who helped organize Harbin’s event with his wife, Shirley, said what the block really needs is leadership.

“The only way to fix that block up is if they take charge of it themselves,” he said.

Taking charge

The Montroses, who live on the 3200 block of Pleasant, have been teaching Harbin how to be a leader on her block.

Harbin planned to become an official block leader by taking a training course at the 5th Precinct earlier this month. She’s already made the 3100 block of Pleasant a favorite spot for neighborhood children to play.

“She watches out for us,” said Steve Sandoval, 14, who visited Harbin on a weekday afternoon in June with friend Angel Sanchez, 14.

Harbin sat in a lawn chair outside her apartment and chatted with the kids as they played with her dog, a spunky little Shih Tzu named Chase. Harbin said she really didn’t get to know her neighbors well until she got Chase a couple years ago and started walking him around the
neighborhood.

“People know the dog better than they know me,” she said.

The dog and Harbin’s firm belief in speaking her mind has brought her closer to residents on the 3000 Block as well, even though she’s needed a translator to communicate with some of them. She said she was driven to bring that block together after talking to families affected by the May homicide, for which there is no one in custody.

An active member of the multicultural church Open Door Evangelistic World Ministries, Harbin said her initial reaction was to evangelize the block. That idea evolved into her community event, and now she’s searching for someone to lead the troubled 3000 block.

And there’s interest.

“I would love to see something like that happen,” Killion said. “I would even love to be a part of it. There’s strength in numbers and there’s also safety in numbers.”

Reach Jake Weyer at jweyer@mnpubs.com.