A push for peace

Police, community leaders working to fight crime at Martin Luther King Park  

KINGFIELD — Children giddily patted Bruce Taylor and Dennis Carey’s dachshunds on a sunny afternoon in Martin Luther King Park.

Youngsters splashed in the park’s pool, others rode by on bikes. Parents lounged on the benches. It was a much different scene than the one some nearby residents have been buzzing about lately.

Bullets sailed through the park around 8 p.m. July 29. One damaged a car, another found its way into the torso of an armed 18-year old man who was chased across Nicollet Avenue before he collapsed at a nearby home. He and a friend who sported bullet holes through his clothing from near misses managed to survive the ordeal.  

The incident shook up many residents near the park and prompted four blocks in the area to get together for a quickly planned National Night Out party Aug. 7. Minneapolis Park Police stepped up patrols for a few days following the shooting and an investigation is still underway, but no arrests have been made.

Some longtime park neighbors are concerned that the park is no longer safe. 

“The park, in my view, has become much more of a menace than an attractive amenity,” said Ann Berget, who has lived near the park for 27 years.

Martin Luther King Park, 4055 Nicollet Ave., was the location of one of Minneapolis’ earliest gang murders back in the mid-1980s, but has been largely free from violent crime since. During the last year, only one assault besides the recent shooting was reported. Police responded to six other incidents at the park during that time, including a narcotics offense and a report of damaged property.

Lt. Tony Diaz, who is in charge of the Minneapolis Police Department’s Assault Unit, said the recent shooting appeared to be an isolated incident. His unit is investigating it with the department’s Gang Unit. Diaz said it is possible the shooting was gang related, but he couldn’t confirm that it was.

The man who was shot, whose name has not been released, has not been cooperative with police and gave no motive for the shooting, Diaz said.

In an excerpt from the Kingfield Neighborhood Association’s e-mail list, 5th Precinct Crime Prevention Specialist Tom Thompson said a gang called the Bloods was at the park when two rival gang members walked by.

“Some words were exchanged and guns displayed,” Thompson said.

He said the man who was shot was one of the individuals walking by.  

Park Police continue to make daily stops at the park, said Sgt. Brian Rodgers, who oversees officers in that sector. Rodgers said the park is generally a safe place and residents should not be concerned about a repeat incident.

“These people knew each other and went there for a reason,” he said.

But the encouragement isn’t enough for some nearby residents. Berget said she doesn’t think police are doing enough to solve the problem, which she sees as larger than the recent shooting. Berget said the park has become a safe haven for gang members, which makes neighborhood residents uneasy about going there.

“There is really an enormous lack of resolve to clean this up,” Berget said. “Thugs have taken over many of the neighborhoods in Minneapolis and they’re on the verge of taking ours too. I can’t see much effectiveness on the part of police.”  

Nearby resident Steven Hasti said the inability of anyone to identify the shooter after such a public incident is frustrating.

“I feel pretty helpless as a citizen in a case like that,” he said.

Hasti, who teaches at the K–8 Richard R. Green Central Park Community School in South Minneapolis, said he no longer takes his sons, ages 7 and 10, to Martin Luther King Park.

“I pulled away from going to that park because it seemed like the tone had shifted,” Hasti said.

Hasti said many good people use the park, such as the neighborhood’s Latino families, but he has noticed a large number of unsupervised youth there. One of his sons was bullied and pushed at the park a couple years ago, he said.

Gang activity is Hasti’s largest concern. As an educator, he said he’s noticed a pro-gang mentality among many children. He said he’s seen some wear shirts that bear statements such as “don’t tell the cops.” He and his colleagues make a point of talking about gangs in the classroom in an attempt to steer children away from gang activity, he said.

Hasti, who has lived in Kingfield since 1994 and has no intention of leaving, said he signs his sons up for activities at Lyndale Farmstead Park in East Harriet now instead of Martin Luther King Park, where they used to be involved in sports.

“I’m sad about King Park because it’s the best park around,” he said. “I hate to see it be a place to be afraid of.”

Some Kingfield residents aren’t afraid.

Michael Vanderford, who coaches Little Kids Soccer at the park, said he still feels safe there.

“It seems like a relatively unusual situation,” he said about the shooting.

Taylor and Carey have lived in the Kingfield for 35 years and though they’ve seen an increase in crime, it doesn’t keep them from walking their dachshunds Abby, Link and Buggs through the park. They said as city dwellers, they’ve gotten used to such problems.

“I always feel safe,” Taylor said. “Usually the people carrying around guns aren’t planning on killing me.”

The shooter July 29 might not have been planning to hit anyone other than the men being chased, but bullets zoomed close to the people in the yard they ran to.

The homeowner, who did not want to be identified to protect himself and his family, said he was in the backyard with his wife, son and daughter when he heard what sounded like 50 fireworks going off. Soon it sounded as though bottle rockets were whizzing through the trees. They were bullets.

When his wife ran to the front yard to see what was going on, she encountered two young men pleading for help, one holding his chest and bleeding heavily, he said. Thinking the shooter might still be in pursuit, she and her daughter brought the victim to the basement and put pressure on his wound until the ambulance arrived. 

“My daughter and wife saved his life,” the homeowner said.

He and his wife started organizing the National Night Out party the day after the shooting, which was the hot discussion topic at the event. He said another neighborhood meeting is planned for the fall and some neighbors are working together to put together a contact list for the area so the community can stay in touch with each other about crime in the neighborhood.

Vanderford said such a list would enable residents to alert one another of suspicious activities and call 911 in mass. He and other neighbors were concerned that a phone call to police about a large, unruly group of people in the park about an hour prior to the shooting wasn’t responded to appropriately. 

But some park neighbors might not be in the area long enough to take part in any crime-stopping initiatives. The owner of the home the victim ran to said some people are opting to leave.

“There’s a lot of people talking about moving, frankly,” he said.

As a longtime Southwest resident, he doesn’t plan to be one of those.

City Council Member Elizabeth Glidden (8th Ward), who also lives near the park, said she did some door knocking in the neighborhood after the shooting and is encouraging residents to continue being vigilant about watching out for suspicious activities and calling 911.

The Kingfield Neighborhood Association planned to have the park police attend its Aug. 21 Crime Prevention and Safety Committee meeting to discuss the safety of Martin Luther King Park.

Reach Jake Weyer at 436-4367 or [email protected]