After July 4th shooting, Minneapolis braces for more gun violence

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Days after a July 4th shooting in a northeast Minneapolis park sent seven people to the hospital, more than 150 community members packed a Polish deli just down the street, looking for answers.

City police Inspector Sean McGinty listened as one woman described the terror she felt as mortar-style fireworks were shot at her family on their balcony that night. Another person told of a stray bullet that broke a window in her apartment. Why, they asked, didn't police break up the unsanctioned gathering before it got out of control?

Standing among the frantic group at Kramarczuk's on Friday morning, McGinty said the Police Department is doing its best with available resources but that staffing is down. He said the city asked neighboring agencies for help before the holiday, but "everyone said no."

"We're in dire trouble, and I can tell by your voice that you feel it," McGinty said. "Don't think I don't feel it too."

After the holiday weekend marred by scattered mayhem, Minneapolis faces its third consecutive summer of abnormally high gun violence. The mass shooting Monday at the gathering on Boom Island Park, followed the next day by a firefight that left one teenager dead and another with life-threatening injuries, only represent the latest casualties in the wave of gun violence that has been surging for just over two years.

So far in 2022, the city has seen nearly 300 shootings, and guns were used in the majority of the 47 homicides to date, according to data analyzed by the Star Tribune.

The good news is shooting assaults and homicides are down slightly from this time in 2021, offering some optimism that the wave crested last year. The bad news: Both metrics still far exceed what was the city's norm for more than a decade before June 2020.

The number of homicides this year is just shy of 2019's year-end total, according to data tracked by the Star Tribune, which includes people killed by police. In a dozen years before the pandemic, the city averaged 17 homicides by this point in the summer — putting the violence of the past two years far above Minneapolis' baseline. And the worst this year may still be yet to come.

"We view this as a zero sum, but we do have to track trends," Gov. Tim Walz warned last week. "Summer months always — in the north, in Minnesota — see an increase in these things."

Violence up, staffing down

The rising gun violence isn't only hitting Minneapolis.

Neighboring St. Paul has recorded 21 homicides this year compared with 14 through the first week of July 2021 — a year that eventually surpassed the city's record. Violent trends are even more pronounced beyond the Twin Cities, as major cities such as Atlanta, Baltimore, New Orleans, Milwaukee and Dallas are significantly ahead of last year's homicide pace.

In Minneapolis, the bulk of violent crimes are confined to a handful of pockets: North Side neighborhoods and those near Midtown and Powderhorn have combined for about 60% of the incidents in the past couple of years, including most gun-related offenses.

The starkest changes compared with the pre-pandemic years are found in the Second Precinct, which covers the Northeast and the University of Minnesota neighborhoods. According to Minneapolis police data, incidents in the precinct are up more than 50% from average. The Fifth Precinct, encompassing Whittier and Uptown, saw an increase by about 80%.

Mayor Jacob Frey called guns the "far-too-common denominator" in the violence in Minneapolis and other American cities.

"We've got guns coming into our city— both legal and illegal — by the trunk load," Frey said at a news conference after the Boom Island shootings. "It makes it all the more dangerous for the general public. It makes it all the more hard on our officers who are trying to suss out a difficult situation without knowing if someone is armed or not. Guns make a difficult situation treacherous."

Minneapolis Police Deputy Chief Erick Fors described how hours of chaos sent police racing across the city from scene to scene until 4 a.m. the day after July 4th. Besides the shootings, there were reports of people firing commercial-grade fireworks at bystanders, first responders and others in downtown's Mill District, illegal street racing and a stabbing in south Minneapolis. The large, unruly crowds made for dangerous crime scenes that required sufficient numbers of officers on the scene, Fors said.

With help from American Rescue Plan funding, the city police budget is $3 million higher than at the start of 2020, but hundreds of officers have quit or are on long-term disability leave. As the violence has risen, staffing has fallen to about 564 officers, far below the 886 employed just over two years ago.

At the community meeting at Kramarczuk's, organized by City Council Member Michael Rainville, McGinty said the shortfall is stretching resources thin. Though many in the crowd complained of inadequate police response to the July 4th shootings, he said the 80 officers on duty that night exceeded the new normal.

"There are nights in the city where there might be 18 or 20 for the whole city," McGinty said.

Rainville, who was elected last year, said the city has struggled to find new officers who want to work in Minneapolis. "We allocated for four classes of 40 recruits; the first class we had 12," he said. "Young people do not want to become police officers. Police have been demonized so much, it's not an attractive career."

He blamed the current state of the department on the rhetoric of past City Council members. He said the current city government is focused on supporting police and improving public safety, pointing to Frey's nomination of the first community safety commissioner a day earlier.

"The past council had other ideas about police," Rainville said. "This council has different ideas."

Minnesota Republicans similarly blamed the holiday violence on failed politics in Minneapolis.

"The Democrats' repeated cries to defund the police and their failure to act on critical public safety measures have turned Minnesota's largest city and surrounding communities into places where criminals feel emboldened to attack and injure law enforcement officers and the public, creating more chaos in our streets," Nick Majerus, spokesman for the Republican Party of Minnesota, said Tuesday in a statement. "This is unacceptable."

Majerus named Frey in the statement, even though the mayor campaigned against the constitutional amendment to replace the Minneapolis Police Department, a proposal that voters rejected in November.

Reinforcements coming

Moving forward, Minneapolis will receive more help from outside.

Walz, who blamed the crime wave on "too many guns" and "too much acceptance of the violence," pledged last week to devote more state resources to bolster Minneapolis' police staffing.

He said the Minnesota State Patrol confiscated a dozen cars involved in illegal street racing last weekend and has assigned 20 extra troopers and deployed its aviation unit to crack down on the dangerous activity. Additional 911 dispatchers also will be dedicated to the extra enforcement effort.

The state Bureau of Criminal Apprehension is also partnering with local police to solve homicides and assaults, and the agency announced last week it will "significantly increase its presence around the Twin Cities" in response to the recent violence.

Minnesota's U.S. Attorney Andrew Luger has instructed his entire office of federal prosecutors to take on violent crime cases this summer, with a focus on cases involving guns and carjackings.

Yet some worry all this won't be enough.

At Karmacuzk's, crowd members said they have created a neighborhood fund to hire off-duty police to patrol their neighborhoods. Rainville said the city will place concrete barriers on 2nd Street and 11th Avenue South to stop street racing, and he encouraged people to bring out lawn chairs and reclaim the area.

Rainville said he's also urged Walz to send in the National Guard — eliciting rounds of loud boos and cheers from the crowd.

Star Tribune staff writer Briana Bierschbach contributed to this report.