St. Paul city leaders are turning to residents to help curb a deadly surge in gun violence since the summer. There have been a total of 29 homicides including one police shooting death so far this year.
The numbers were daunting and disturbing to the dozens of St. Paul residents who gathered at Central Baptist Church near Snelling Avenue and Interstate 94, for the first of three community meetings organized by Mayor Melvin Carter in response to the violence.
Essence Blakemore lives downtown. The 20-year-old college student led one of the small group roundtable discussions after the mayor’s opening remarks.
Blakemore said she’s hoping to gain ideas about how to reach more people.
”The people who are actually affected and living the life of shooters and people who are avoiding being shot, how do we get those people to sit in these spaces and have those conversations honestly and feel comfortable doing that?” Blakemore asked.
Police say a total of 145 people have been shot in St. Paul so far this year. That compares to 135 who were shot last year by the end of November. Of the 29 homicides in 2019, firearms were involved in 26.
”What I hear you tell me is we need a new approach, what I hear you tell me is we can’t expect our police officers to do everything,” Mayor Carter said to open the meeting.
He said the city should have a holistic approach to public safety that examines issues surrounding poverty, substance abuse and mental health, and for that he wants the public’s support, especially as the city council is preparing a budget for next year.
”We are actually a city that is fundamentally safer than most any comparable cities to our size around the country,” Carter said.
St. Paul police chief Todd Axtell has pulled seven or eight of his officers from a regional violent gang task force led by the FBI and returned them to St. Paul on a temporary basis. He’s also moved a forensic specialist from narcotics to DNA analysis to track down suspects more quickly.
The department holds daily gang and gun meetings focused on what Axtell called the small percentage of the people involved in violent activity.
And just before the meeting, Minnesota U.S. Attorney Erica MacDonald said in a statement that she had met with Axtell that day. She said she agreed that response was not just about enforcement, but should include “plans for treatment and prevention.” And she said federal and state agencies should help to protect the St. Paul neighborhoods.
The next community meeting is Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. at the Rice Recreation Center.