Uptown shooting highlights rise in violence

Criminologist fears city entering a chaotic period

Jeff Neppl cleans up outside John Fluevog Shoes in Uptown Sunday morning after a shooting the night before left 11 people wounded. Photo by Zac Farber

Eleven people were wounded in a Saturday night shooting in Uptown that sent a large crowd of people fleeing a hail of bullets. The incident has sparked a conversation about public safety in the neighborhood and city. 

The shooting happened around 12:30 a.m. on June 21 at Lagoon & Hennepin. Some survivors were taken to Hennepin County Medical Center and others showed up at local hospitals in private cars. Police say none of their injuries are life-threatening.

Police Chief Medaria Arradondo called the shooting “tragic and senseless violence.” 

He said there was no connection to George Floyd’s May 25 killing or to the boisterous celebrations and drag race-style burnouts at Lagoon & Hennepin the evening of June 19. With many Minneapolis entertainment venues closed, Arradondo said, activity is “being decompressed into other parts of our city where more crowds are gathering larger than they typically would.”

Police initially believed a man who died from a gunshot wound that evening was a victim in the shooting, but put out a statement on June 23 saying the fatality came from a shooting downtown. The man, identified by family and friends as 27-year-old husband, father and barber Cody C. Pollard, was shot downtown near Target Center, police say. 

Shootings spike 

The Minneapolis Police Department’s confusion over where Pollard was shot highlights the hectic nature of the Uptown shooting and the large amount of gun violence in Minneapolis this summer. 

Arradondo said the department has seen a surge of violent crime and shootings in recent months that amounts to “a public health crisis.” More than 100 people have been shot in the city since May 26, according to the Star Tribune. Arradondo said the Minneapolis Police Department would be looking for help from the FBI and other outside law enforcement agencies. “Make no doubt, the gun violence has to stop,” he said.

Hennepin County Sheriff Dave Hutchinson said deputies will provide patrol assistance in Minneapolis and investigative resources to help arrest those committing violent crimes.   

“Our communities are engaged in a dangerous spate of violence, disproportionately affecting communities of color,” Hutchinson said in a statement. “It might be easier for police, in these turbulent times, to keep a low profile and fly under the radar. But it isn’t the right thing to do.”

Christopher Uggen, a criminologist at the University of Minnesota, said the increase of shootings in Minneapolis is starting to look like what happened after the police killing of Freddie Gray and subsequent protests and unrest in Baltimore in 2015, when violent crime peaked for about three months. 

“That’s my concern, that we’re entering into this period, ” Uggen said. 

Floyd’s death and the subsequent uprising was “profoundly destabilizing” in many ways across the city, Uggen said, and upended both formal systems of control from law enforcement and the less formal systems of community violence prevention that come from friends and family. With that destabilization, the chance of violence increases. 

Before Floyd’s death, criminologists were tracking an increase in violent crime in the Twin Cities, which was largely perpetuated by the relatively decentralized groups of gangs and cliques operating in the metro, Uggen said, but the increase in shootings since Floyd was killed is not a statistical blip. 

Violent crime is up 11% in the 5th Precinct this year over the five-year average, according to MPD data.  

Community response 

The weekend of the shooting marked one of the first where nightlife returned to the heart of Uptown, and on Friday, June 19, the streets near Hennepin & Lagoon were filled with people doing burnouts in muscle cars and onlookers who were more or less having a block party near the bars, which “got out of control fast,” according to Jill Osiecki, executive director of the Uptown Association. 

Fred Hwang, the manager of Hoban Korean BBQ, said local restaurants and bars have stopped hiring off-duty police officers for security because it’s now “seen as a liability.” He said he was frustrated he couldn’t get on-duty officers to respond that Friday night. “Everyone called them; they didn’t come,” he said.

Osiecki said “the plan on Saturday was to have an increased police presence.”

Part of that plan included blocking off portions of the street near bars, and while that deterred another vehicular doughnut festival, the strategy did not prevent gun violence. 

On June 22, the Monday after the shooting, several area business owners, police officials, Mayor Jacob Frey and local Council Members Lisa Bender (Ward 10) and Lisa Goodman (Ward 7) participated in a meeting hosted by the Uptown Association to discuss safety in the neighborhood. The mayor and the MPD committed to putting more patrol resources in the area at the meeting. 

Bender, whose ward includes the corner where the shooting occurred, has spoken about the importance of gun control and the need to take proactive steps to stop violence, but in two interviews her staff scheduled before this issue went to press, she could not be reached for comment. 

Goodman, who represents the East Isles portion of Uptown, said local businesses requested increased patrols. 

There is a void of leadership in the city on crime, she said, and at a time when many of her colleagues are calling for the department to be dismantled, she said she wants the public to be confident police can be a part of the solution. 

“If we’re going to be a city without police, we need to be a city with much less guns,” Goodman said.  

With burnouts and other vehicle stunts in the area, one strategy going forward will be continuing to close down a few blocks to vehicle traffic. Goodman said McDonald’s and Lunds agreed to close their parking lots on weekend evenings to discourage large congregations of cars. 

Car-based disturbances present several challenges to MPD patrolling areas with significant nightlife like Uptown, Goodman said, because officers are often on bikes and ill-equipped and inadequately staffed to break up large groups of people in vehicles. Even if people drive away, MPD policy limits officers from engaging in vehicle chases with nonviolent offenders for safety reasons. Some local residents want to help promote alternatives to police presence, she said, but she also sees limits to that approach. 

“What do we want people to do, go out in orange vests and stop people spinning in their cars?” Goodman said. 

In the long term, she said, the Uptown area will likely need to adopt a similar practice to the Warehouse District downtown, where nightlife businesses and residents meet weekly with police to discuss safety strategies.

“There are going to be some long-term discussions,” Osiecki said.  

In the short term, some bars are considering temporary early closing hours of 10 p.m. on weekdays and midnight on weekends, she said. 

Mike Whitelaw, who owns Uptown Tavern, said security is a “monster issue” and that he has not had a similar concern in 15 years at the location. He said he was happy with what he heard at the Uptown Association from both Goodman and 5th Precinct Inspector Amelia Huffman and said Bender “is at least listening.” He said the bar is still trying to figure out its strategy going forward, but the priority is keeping the public and workers safe. 

“It’s a lot of moving parts right now,” he said. 

Chaotic scene 

Hwang said he was standing outside Hoban, doing some crowd control, when a string of shots — at least 30 or 40 — rang out “bop-bop-bop-bop-bop-bop” from near the McDonald’s, about a half block to his north. 

“We hit the floor and then started scrambling inside for safety,” he said. “Bullets [flew] right next to my head and just barely missed me. … I could have been killed.”

Police are investigating the shooting and have yet to say how many people were involved.

Hwang said “it appeared to be a shootout between two or more people.” “We found bullet shell casings from three different guns — three different sizes,” he explained.

Buddy Vegas, a friend of Hwang’s, was smoking a cigarette in front of Hoban when the shooting started. He said three women collapsed on top of each other on the sidewalk in front of him. “We had to peel the one girl off, then peel the second girl off to get to the third one,” he said.

Hwang said he thought there was “a delayed response” to the shooting, given that a squad car was stationed near the Apple Store, a block to the south. Minneapolis police spokesperson John Elder said the first officer responded to the scene “within three minutes” of the shooting.

As of press time on June 24, the police report on the shooting has not been made public. Elder told the Southwest Journal to file a data request in response to questions about how many officers were on patrol in the 5th Precinct June 19-21 and how many officers were stationed in Uptown. The request has yet to be fulfilled, and calls to the police record unit placed during business hours June 21, 22 and 23 have gone straight to a taped message requesting the public “call again the next business day.” 

Osiecki said she was encouraged by police response to the shooting and the way they worked with people to tend to the wounded. 

“Police were on the spot right away and they were being helped by the community,” she said.  

Some in the city have suggested the MPD is in a work slowdown in response to the uprising. Uggen said he has not seen evidence of that in Minneapolis, but he believes officers may be keeping their distance until called. 

“We do have reports that officers are getting much more pushback and resistance from community members, and that was certainly the case in the Uptown situation,” he said.  

Given the backlash they’re facing, Hwang speculated that officers might be scared.

“But we are, too,” he said. “We’re also facing this unrest.”

As conversations on dismantling the MPD and creating a new public safety model have begun, Uggen said that, as a criminologist, he supports investing more in social programs to divert people from crime to non-police interventions for low-level offenses. Getting this spell of violence under control will be key to progressing those discussions, he said. 

“We’ve had a tremendous shock, and we haven’t reached any sort of equilibrium,” Uggen said.