A homicide on my block

I have a glitchy electronic doorbell, so when it “dinged” on a chilly Friday morning, I all but ignored it. From my upper-story home-office window, I didn’t see anyone on the stoop. I glanced down the block. There was yellow tape across the street. I figured the city was taking out a dead tree.

Fifteen minutes later, the full “ding-dong.” At the door stood my normally stoic neighbor, Pat, ashen-faced. “There’s a body in the alley,” she said, trembling. “Do you know anything?”

Nothing. I heard nothing. Our peerless watchdog, so attuned to stranger movement, hadn’t uttered a sound. Thoughts raced: my daughter walked to her school bus in the direction Pat pointed. Now, I was the one trembling.

Hurrying to the police line, the cops weren’t saying much. Desperate to find out if it was family, or even a neighbor, my reptile brain kicked in. “Is the victim black?” I asked the cop. He winced, not really wanting to say, but muttered, “Good guess.”

I was relieved, and ashamed that race so effectively filtered my corner of the world.

That night, several neighbors gathered around bottles of wine. Some who had seen the horrible aftermath needed comfort; we all mourned a life extinguished, even though the authorities were sending well-intentioned messages meant to distance us from the victim: “No ties to Kingfield; not a random event; public not at risk.”

Togetherness soothed hearts, but coping also involves the head. We masticated recent crimes — a couple of burglaries, a stolen iPhone, an armed robbery of a business five blocks away — trying to figure if this was a portent. It’s unknowable, though greybeards like me tried to reassure newcomers that this felt so, so unusual.

The next morning, a cop stopped by to basically deliver the same message. “We never come down here for this,” he said, shaking his head.

Little did I know how right he was. Over those bottles of wine, we’d recalled the last nearby killing any of us could remember: a grisly double-homicide at the hands of two gangbangers who knew the occupants.

But how long ago was that? I went to the city’s crime-statistics page: June 2008 — more than five years ago.

The killing occurred in the 3600 block of 1st Avenue, the neighborhood’s northeast tip. We live south of 38th Street, so I wondered when the last homicide occurred south of there: March 2006 — nearly eight years ago — when an alleged drug dealer was stabbed in his 42nd & Pillsbury town home after interrupting a robbery.

OK, what about the last homicide that was south of there? I went back 10 years — to November 2003 — and found … none. A good chunk of Kingfield had literally gone a decade without a homicide.

Well, what about neighborhoods to our south? I expanded my search to the Southwest Journal coverage area, between France and Chicago avenues. Again, nothing.

That means in a city that has experienced more than 400 homicides in the past decade, precisely zero have occurred in Minneapolis’ southwestern-most neighborhoods: Fulton, Lynnhurst, Tangletown, Field, Page, Armatage, Kenny, Windom and Diamond Lake.

And they’re not the only ones homicide-free over this long time horizon: Linden Hills, East Harriet, East Calhoun, CARAG, Cedar-Isles-Dean, East Isles and Lowry Hill are also zero-for-10-years.

In fact, if you exclude 2012’s six Accent Signage workplace killings in Bryn Mawr, and one 2010 West Calhoun homicide, there is, effectively, an invisible “murder moat” protecting everyone south of Glenwood and west of Hennepin Avenue to Lake Street, west of Lyndale to 36th Street, west of Pillsbury to 40th Street, and west of Columbus to the Crosstown.

Yes, there’s a knock-me-over-with-a-feather aspect here: all are relatively wealthy Minneapolis neighborhoods. They’re also the whitest: every one of the past decade’s five south-of-36th victims was black or Hispanic. While homicides remain remarkable crimes, this longitudinal look only underlines thudding obviousness about race, class and ethnicity.

A few hours after the cop stopped by, a makeshift memorial sprung up on a garage near the crime scene. Helium hearts and stars – balloons you put in a birthday bouquet — bobbed underneath a poster with “we love you” messages signed in vibrant magic marker. It was oddly touching, but disquieting, as if the authors knew all too well what to do when a 24-year-old is gunned down.

By the next day, the poster was gone. In its place were plain, black magic-marker scrawls repeating these words: “Bang, Bang.” This too, I thought, must be familiar to people on the other side of the murder moat. 

David Brauer is a former Journal editor who lives in Kingfield, where he chaired the neighborhood association and farmers market boards. Find him on Twitter @dbrauer.