In one widely shared video clip, a man fires a handgun into the air while hanging out the side of a car doing doughnuts in the middle of Hennepin and Lagoon avenues in Minneapolis’ Uptown neighborhood as a crowd looks on.
Images of vehicle stunts and garbage dumpsters being set ablaze in the heart of the entertainment district have also been making the rounds on social media, along with videos of confrontations between police and demonstrators following the June killing of Winston Smith Jr. by law officers executing a warrant for being a felon in possession of a gun.
City leaders are condemning the upheaval in Uptown, which has caused at least one longtime business to leave and others to alter operations, and are pledging stepped-up police patrols as data show an increase in violent crime in the neighborhood — a trend citywide.
Mayor Jacob Frey said in a Facebook post Thursday that the recent nights’ events in Uptown were “not a form of peaceful protest or demonstration,” while adding that the MPD was “boosting its investigative capacity” with help from outside law enforcement agencies.
“A neighborhood in our city has endured violent behavior at the hands of people looking to sow chaos,” he wrote. “Community members, business leaders, and elected officials should not hesitate to call it out and condemn it.”
Police spokesman John Elder said that when necessary, additional officers are being pulled in from other precincts and deployed to Uptown.
He said the department also continues to work closely with federal partners to combat the lawlessness, which he blamed on “group violence and interpersonal violence,” as well as “people’s belief that this is an opportunity to engage in criminal behavior.”
Incidents of violent crime in the neighborhood that includes most of Uptown’s bars and clubs rose to 67 incidents from 49 at this point last year; most of that increase is from a rise in robberies, according to crime statistics. Overall, other categories of crime have remained mostly steady.
The number of domestic assaults and aggravated assaults, such as shootings and stabbings, in the surrounding Lowry Hill East neighborhood look similar to 2020. Property crimes — burglary, larceny and auto theft — have also held steady.
Some say that despite recent high-profile violent episodes, Uptown is safer than many other parts of the city. As a result, they say, even a small uptick in crime is treated as part of a larger trend.
For the past few weeks, Marvin Applewhite has been taking teens from his youth mentoring program around to clean up spray painting on buildings — which, depending on whom you ask, is either graffiti or protest art following Smith’s death — as a way of teaching them to take pride in their neighborhood.
He said he has been confronted more than once by people who accused him of selling out and working for the city.
“I think Uptown’s being bullied. They don’t have nothing to do with what’s going on up there. I think if anybody should be protesting, it should be in front of the U.S. marshals’ building or something. The federal building,” said Applewhite. “They’re messing with the wrong people, man. These people didn’t do nothing to them. They’re stopping their business. Stores are leaving. … People are leaving.”
Earlier this week, organizers for the Uptown Art Fair announced that they were canceling the event for the second straight year. But, instead of citing COVID-19, organizers cited safety concerns.
The weeks since Smith’s death have brought almost daily demonstrations.
Already on edge after Smith’s killing, the area was further shaken by the death of a protester, 31-year-old Deona Knajdek, killed when she was struck by a vehicle driven by an unlicensed driver racing down Lake Street.
Knajdek and Smith are memorialized in a tranquil area of Uptown called the Wince Marie Peace Garden, a neighborhood garden that activists say provides a place of healing.
On Friday night, people still poured into Uptown for food and entertainment, but many were well aware of the problems — especially those who work there.
“The other day, a drunk driver sped down the street, hitting every parked car. He lost a wheel and he kept going,” said Pourhouse bouncer Howard Burton. “That’s the pattern of craziness that I see.”
Browsing at Magers & Quinn bookstore, Minneapolis resident Sarah Law said she has followed the news, but “we still come to eat at the restaurants and wander around. It’s still a fun experience.”
Some have simply adapted. Maggie Hood, who lives and works in Uptown, said the carjackings have meant people need to be more vigilant. And “I’ve learned to tell the difference between fireworks and firearms,” she said. “I’ve gotten used it.”
Even so, the 68-year-old piano teacher said she feels safe. “People have different levels of what’s OK, and I’m OK with risks,” she said. “I would feel worse if I turned my back and left [Uptown]. “The only way communities thrive is if people invest in them and don’t flee.”
Staff writer Susan Du contributed to this report.
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