Youth violence back in the spotlight after rash of shootings

Alisha Neeley memorial
Mourners placed candles, flowers and some of Alisha Neeley's favorite snacks -- like a Snickers bar and bottles of Coca Cola - on Monday, March 1, 2010, at a makeshift memorial near the site where she died. Neeley, 17, was shot Friday night as she stood with a crowd of people outside of a party in north Minneapolis.
MPR Photo/Brandt Williams

A rash of gun violence in Minneapolis this weekend has left one teenage girl dead and four young men wounded.

Law enforcement officials say they have no suspects in custody. While they don't think all of the shootings are connected, some might be.

What is known is that most of the victims this weekend are either juveniles or in their 20s, and that has returned the city's focus to the challenges of preventing youth violence.

In Minneapolis on Monday, a teenage girl and her friend pause from mourning the death of the city's latest homicide victim to have their picture taken in front of a makeshift memorial. She asks a reporter to take a picture of her with her cell phone.

The young woman, who said her name is Gionna, and her friend who doesn't give her name, pose in front of a pile of tributes to Alisha Neeley.

Alisha, known by her friends as 'LeLe' was shot dead near this spot in north Minneapolis Friday night. Neeley, 17, was standing with a group of other young people outside a party when she was struck by a bullet.

Mourners have left flowers, candles, stuffed animals, balloons even some of Neeley's favorite snacks -- a snickers bar and bottles of Coca Cola -- on the ground next to a utility pole.

"She was just a nice person," the friend says.

In their minds they feel they're just protecting themself from the world.

Neeley's death brings the city's homicide total so far this year to 10; there were 19 killings in the city all of last year. More violence followed the day after Neeley's death. Shots rang out near a gathering of people who came to mourn for Neeley. No one was hit.

Minneapolis Police Sgt. Bill Palmer said following the shooting, investigators reached out to community leaders to help prevent any more violence.

"We did not want to see another act of violence on Saturday night," Palmer said. "Unfortuntately, we did."

That night, two teenaged boys were shot and wounded on a Metro Transit bus. Metro transit officials say they're pursuing a suspect in the shooting. In the meantime, they're stepping up transit patrols in north Minneapolis, which is where Saturday's shooting occurred.

The next day, two more men suffered gunshot wounds in two separate incidents; one man was seriously injured.

The city's efforts to combat youth violence goes beyond law enforcement. For years, a host of non-profit organizations and people like Jewelean Jackson have been working to reduce violence, especially in north Minneapolis. Ms. Jackson, as she is known in the community, is involved in the Northside Achievement Zone. The program is modeled after an anti-poverty program developed in Harlem, New York.

Ms. Jackson mentored Alisha and her family. She said Alisha was getting her life together at the time of her death.

Alisha Neeley memorial
Mourners placed candles, flowers and some of Alisha Neeley's favorite snacks -- like a Snickers bar and bottles of Coca Cola - on Monday, March 1, 2010, at a makeshift memorial near the site where she died. Neeley, 17, was shot Friday night as she stood with a crowd of people outside of a party in north Minneapolis.
MPR Photo/Brandt Williams

"She had just gotten back -- getting ready to go back to school at, I believe the Urban League Academy and was starting to get her life on track -- just turned 17," Jackson said.

Jackson said Neeley's home life was unstable. As a mentor to the family, Jackson helped connect the whole family to steady housing and education. Jackson said the morning of Alisha's death, she and Alisha helped move her older sister into a new apartment.

The shooting hit particularly close to home because Jackson's daughter was at the same party with Neeley and could have been the victim.

Andre Dukes also works with the Northside Achievement Zone. Dukes, who is also a pastor at a nearby church, said youth violence is not just a north Minneapolis or urban problem. He said for some reason, there's a young generation of people filled with a lot of anger.

"And they don't know how to channel that anger, so they are channeling it at each other," Dukes said. "In their minds they feel they're just protecting themself from the world."

The violence this weekend was also not just contained to Minneapolis. St. Paul police officials say a teenage boy was hit by gunfire while sitting in a parked car.

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