Block club unites Martin Luther King Park neighbors against crime

KINGFIELD — Families that live along nine blocks west of Martin Luther King Park — 40th to 43rd, Nicollet, Blaisdell and Wentworth — have experienced a series of violent events throughout the last five months.

On July 29, a gang-related shooting erupted between Nicollet and nearby streets usually crowded with playing children. It resulted in gunshots being fired through the trees of the neighborhood before the victim took shelter at a nearby home.

The murder of local bicyclist Mark Loesch in Powderhorn Park on Sept.13 shocked the neighborhood. Chris DeParde, who has been a resident of Kingfield since 1991 and whose family shares a backyard with the Loesch family, said the incident “heightened the fear of folks.

It just seemed so out of place.” Residents have recently united to form a grassroots, community crime-prevention group called “West-of-King” Block Clubs to raise awareness of the crimes taking place and energize the residents to go back to basics to strengthen the neighborhood. Headed by Michael Vanderford, the group consists of about 25 members and has met three times since the group first formed in September, but Vanderford hopes they can draw in more residents.

“This is a fairly safe community,”
Vanderford said. “This group was formed in an effort to grab fairly high anxiety about these situations and do something constructive about it.”

After realizing the amount and degree of crime in the neighborhood, some occurring right in front of their houses, group members decided action needed to be taken.

“I started to notice mobilized drug dealing, where cars were parking along our streets and waiting to make deals,”
DeParde said.

West-of-King members concluded that those quick spurts of violence could be counteracted with simple, planned activities. They decided that doing something as easy as evening walks would help to decrease these intrusive incidents.

Many of the objectives and enhancements are still being worked out. From single to group-involvement activities, West-of-King is working to get a walkers’ group of volunteers to gather regularly (about once or twice a week) to walk the streets of the nine-block area together to be on the lookout for crime.

Neighbors are encouraged to dial 911 if they spot suspicious activity in the area and to report license plate numbers of cars suspected of being the site of drug dealing. West-of-King is encouraging the walkers to coordinate or join the Kingfield Neighborhood Citizens Patrol as well. Also this month, the group is working to establish a neighborhood call tree that will consist of residents who are willing to be called when one of their neighbors needs additional bodies to be a presence at the curb where mobile drug dealing is happening, or when something is happening in the neighborhood for which numerous 911 calls are needed to bring in a police presence.

“Instead of having one person report the crime, we would have several,” DeParde said.

Linda Madson, a mother of three and a West-of-King member, said that the corner at which her children gather is also one corner of many for other children in this particular area to play around. It worries her that these crimes are taking place so close to her home.

“It has gotten to the point where my kids have asked me, ‘Is our neighborhood safe?’” Madson said. “Your first response to violence in your neighborhood, I think, is to move. But we have the ability to do more than that.”

Madson has been a resident of several Minneapolis neighborhoods and been the victim of crime before, but she says that this time it feels different.

“[Martin Luther King] Park is a magnet for good and a magnet for bad,” Madson said.

At the first West-of-King meeting,
Vanderford found that he could no longer identify block club leaders in the neighborhood. Ever since the city cut back on city crime officers, Vanderford said, it has been a hard task for the current city crime officers to update the block club leaders list. Some leaders had since moved away. The group is planning to have those positions reestablished by January.     

Vanderford doesn’t know exactly where this group will go, but he hopes it will encourage people to interact, as well as find a value and need for the community to keep going. Families won’t go to Martin Luther King Park because of its reputation. Residents are tempted to retire to another park up the street, away from Martin Luther King, where violence isn’t as much an issue. But Vanderford said there is potential there for change.

“We are pushing to get more park police, lighting and cameras,” he said. “It’s important to strengthen what’s going on in the park.”

Vanderford, DeParde and Madson believe that the residents of West-of-King need to continue to exist as a group.

“All these issues make me and the others feel anxious,” Vanderford said. “We sort of slid into gear, and it’s helping with emotional engagement.”