Two St. Paul killings spark community meetings, calls for prevention

Violence reduction efforts in neighboring Minneapolis are not in place in St. Paul

Police tape marks the scene where a man was fatally shot
Police tape marks the scene where a man was fatally shot near the corner of Hudson Road and Earl Street in St. Paul on Sept. 28, 2019.
Courtesy of St. Paul Police Department

The deaths of two people in St. Paul Sunday have pushed the number of homicides to 26 in the capital city — a level not seen in more than two decades.

The increase in homicides this year, nearly of all of which were committed with guns, sparked the city to announce a series of community forums next month to discuss the issue with residents, as Mayor Melvin Carter considers proposing a supplemental budget to City Council for approval.

“We will never accept violence as the norm,” Carter said in a press release. “Building the safe city we deserve will require new, proactive approaches to public safety, which must be built together.”

The last time 26 people were slain in the capital city was 1996. And 2019 isn’t over yet. According to FBI crime data, which begins in 1985, St. Paul recorded its most violent year in 1992 when 33 people were slain.

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On Sunday, police discovered the body of Steven Dennis Malone, 65, in an apartment near Como Avenue and Dale Street. Later that evening, police responded to a shots fired call in the Summit-University neighborhood. They found a motorist suffering from a gunshot wound in a car, stopped partially in an intersection on Dale Street near Interstate 94.

Police said the man died later at Regions Hospital.

26 homicides took place in St. Paul so far in 2019

Police officials and Carter have said a combination of factors which occur in cycles is to blame. Too often, they say, people who are under financial or emotional pressure, or who are themselves traumatized by violence resort to violence to resolve conflicts — and that those people are using firearms. But what is harder to explain is why this is apparently accelerating in St. Paul this year.

Across the river in Minneapolis — which often records two to three times more homicides than St. Paul annually — city leaders are at the forefront of violence intervention efforts. To date this year, 36 people have been killed in Minneapolis.

Nearly 25 years ago, Minneapolis set its homicide record: 97. The violence earned the city the nickname “Murderapolis.” In the wake of that bloodshed, a program called Ceasefire led by an academic named David Kennedy, came to Minneapolis. By 1999, the number of homicides was cut in half. Ceasefire was a partnership between academics, like Kennedy, working with police, probation, courts and the city’s business communities.

Minneapolis was held up as a national model for how to reduce homicide and crimes of violence, largely by hyper-focusing on the small number of people who were causing the most violence. The theory was that if those people were taken off the street, homicides and other violent crimes would drop.

Ceasefire didn't stay in Minneapolis. But the framework — now known as Group Violence Intervention — came back to the city three years ago.

Louisa Aviles is the director of Group Violence Intervention for the National Network For Safe Communities based at John Jay College in New York City.

She said Group Violence Intervention is a very basic approach which involves law enforcement, social services and community members who present a united front to the people who are responsible for most of the violence in their communities.

“And puts them directly in touch with that very, very small number of people in a community who are involved in these very high-risk group violence dynamics and speaks directly to them — to deliver those messages,” said Aviles. “That there are going to be clear and swift and predictable consequences for the group if the group continues to shoot and kill people.”

Aviles said the focus is on people in groups, not gangs. She said the word “gang” often conjures the false notion that the members of these groups operate under a hierarchy.

“It’s small networks of mostly young men who mostly know each other going back years,” she said. “They’re friends. They have family in common. They’re from the same blocks or the same developments, same neighborhoods. They have social ties and they are involved in and commit violence together.”

Since Minneapolis began using the framework in 2016, the results have been mixed. Minneapolis saw an initial decrease in shootings and homicides from the first year it started into the next. However, Minneapolis has also seen an uptick in shootings and homicides between last year and this year.

So far this year, 36 people have been killed in Minneapolis. At this time in 2018 there were 28 homicides.

St. Paul has not reached out to Aviles or her organization, she said.

Three police officers at a distance inspect a car.
St. Paul police say the found a man unconscious in this car at a Dale Street intersection, suffering from a gunshot wound. Investigators believe he was wounded in a shooting incident about a block away Sunday night. He died later at Regions Hospital.
Courtesy of St. Paul Police Department

However, Group Violence Intervention is an option St. Paul may adopt.

Danny Givens is the new planning specialist for St. Paul-Ramsey County Public Health. Just three months on the job, Givens has been traveling the country to see how violence prevention approaches work in other cities. So far he’s been impressed by programs in Oakland, Calif., and in the Bronx, N.Y.

“No two cities are the same. Just because something works in the Bronx doesn’t necessarily mean it’s going to work in the exact iteration in St. Paul or Minneapolis,” said Givens. “So, I’m going to do these site visits at these different iterations of the work, whether it’s [Group Violence Intervention] or other violence prevention models ... to see what’s working.”

Givens has been a perpetrator of gun violence, a victim and is a pastor who’s presided over the funerals of violence victims. He said it’s important that St. Paul’s public health approach has three main prongs: school-based programming; hospital outreach; and a focus on helping the survivors of violence.

In the last few months, Givens said the county has hosted several “pop-up healing” events near the sites of shootings. And Givens said he’s meeting with mayor Carter on Tuesday to talk more about deeper collaboration on violence prevention.

Givens said he expects new action to start sooner rather than later, but has few details right now.

“If this conversation were happening tomorrow, I’d have much more information for you,” said Givens.

The meetings are slated for:

  • Thursday, Nov. 7, 6:30 p.m. - 8 p.m. at Central Baptist Church, 420 N. Roy St.,

  • Tuesday, Nov. 12, 6:30 p.m. - 8 p.m. at Rice Recreation Center, 1021 Marion St.

  • Saturday, Nov. 16 , 1 p.m. - 2:30 p.m. at Arlington Hills Community Center, 1200 Payne Ave.