A call for calm after Mpls teen's shooting death

Alisha Neeley
Alisha Neeley, 17, pictured in this undated handout photo, was standing with a group of other young people outside a party in Minneapolis when she was struck and killed by a bullet on Feb. 26, 2010.
Courtesy PEACE Foundation

Minneapolis community leaders and police are trying to prevent any violent retaliation over the recent shooting death of a teenage girl.

Police say violent incidents like the one which took the life of Alisha Neeley, 17, often lead to acts of vengeance. And they are turning to community activists and grass roots organizations to prevent any more shootings.

On the first Thursday morning of every month, the General Mills Foundation sponsors a meeting at Farview Park in north Minneapolis. Each gathering features a panel of speakers who discuss community issues. Meetings also feature a crime update presented by a police officer.

Thursday morning's discussion and crime update touched on the city's latest homicide -- the shooting of Alisha Neeley.

Lt. Jim Heimerl told the group that officers in the 4th precinct are on high alert for retaliation. He said officers are not only searching for suspects in her killing, they want to prevent any sort of violent reprisal.

"[Officers have] gone out and directly talked with some of the people who may retaliate and said, 'We know what's going on and we're going to be watching,'" said Heimerl.

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Police officers may know who some of the players are, like family members or friends of the victim, but Heimerl said cops don't carry the influence that a community does.

A group of mourners gathered this week near the site where Alisha Neeley was shot, singing hymns and sharing their grief. As they sang, several dozen people surrounded members of Neeley's family and extended their arms around them as best they could.

Helena Neeley
Helena Neeley, center with glasses, made a tearful plea in Minneapolis on March 3, 2010, against any retaliatory acts against whoever fired the bullet that struck and killed her sister Alisha last week.
MPR Photo/Brandt Williams

The organizers of the prayer march and vigil said Neeley's shooting struck a nerve in the community, and emotions are still raw.

Mourners at vigil for Neeley which occurred earlier in th week were forced to scatter after shots rang out nearby. Neeley's sister Helena acknowledged the pain others are feeling, but begged them not to seek violent revenge.

"I just want all of you guys to just think about the decisions you're about to make - because I know a lot of people are angry," said Helena Neeley. "I know a lot of people are angry right now, because I'm so mad. But I don't know who to be mad at. But please, don't kill nobody else."

The Neeley family has also been embraced by a new program called the Northside Achievement Zone, an anti-poverty program in Harlem, New York. Alisha was taking part in the Northside program just before she was killed.

Sondra Samuels is the president of the PEACE Foundation, which oversees the achievement zone. She says Alisha's young niece has received a scholarship to a dance academy, will get a mentor and will be placed in an early childhood education program.

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

"All these things ... we know statistically make a difference around who stays in school, who gets involved in violence and who doesn't, and who has hope for the future. That's going to reduce the number of kids who are killing," said Samuels.

But some say it may be harder to help some of the young men close to Alisha find peace.

VJ Smith is the director of MAD DADS, an anti-violence group that does street outreach and mentors young black men. Smith said so many young men have become emotionally hardened that instead of seeking help, they express themselves with violence.

Smith said MAD DADS mentors try to get those young men to imagine a life that does not involve violence or crime.

"But it's hard for them to see that, and we have to show them that vision," said Smith. "We can touch their hearts, and prison won't do it. But if we can touch their hearts, then we can change."

A few people familiar with the Neeley family expressed concern about Alisha's brother Terrence, who was released from prison earlier this week. Terrence went to his sister's memorial site the day he was released, after serving nearly three years for a violent assault conviction.

However, Terrence's father, Albert, said his son is not talking about revenge.

"He told me he was going to be strong about it," said Albert, "that he didn't want any more violence, and he just wanted to bury his sister in peace and have no more problems. I just hope that's the truth and it works that way."

Terrence is in intensive supervised release, which means he spends his nights in a halfway house. The family expects him to be able to attend his sister's funeral this weekend.

The funeral for Alisha Neeley will be held on Saturday and is open to the public. Another march for peace is also scheduled to precede the funeral.