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(SUBMITTED PHOTOS COURTESY OF HARDING SMITH)

Members of the Minnesota Acts Now street team walk through a shopping mall. Clad in matching blaze orange shirts, the street team is working to prevent gun violence in Brooklyn Park.

With funding from Hennepin County, a new outreach team hit the streets Aug. 23 Brooklyn Park.

This comes at a time when gun violence in the community is “at a historic and completely unacceptable level,” Police Chief Craig Enevoldsen told the City Council that night.

In 2020, police found evidence of shots fired in 102 incidents in Brooklyn Park. So far this year, police have already recorded 96.

Similarly, in 2020, 30 people were struck by gunfire in Brooklyn Park last year, compared to 17 so far this year.

Fatal shooting incidents have doubled from two in 2020 to four this year.

The police department continues to find “zero to limited” cooperation from the community at crime scenes and during follow-up investigations, Enevoldsen said. “In fact, we’re usually the problem when we show up to these scenes.”

The situation makes it difficult to hold people responsible for their actions and prevent further violence, he said.

Through a county grant, Minnesota Acts Now is working to interrupt and intervene in the violence occurring on Brooklyn Park’s streets. The organization, based in Robbinsdale, also works to prevent homelessness, poverty and other social ills.

The organization is headed by Spiritual Church of God’s Bishop Harding Smith.

Smith addressed the council, saying gangs founded in Minneapolis and St. Paul have spread across the Twin Cities.

“I want this council to be ready, because we are living in a different time today,” he said. “We have over 132 gangs formed in St. Paul just since the death of George Floyd.”

Those gangs are making Brooklyn Park their turf and battleground, he said.

“There’s an allure about Brooklyn Park,” Smith said. “The gangs are coming in. We’ve got to wake up. Sleep time is over. We’ve got to be prepared. We have a battle on our hands — we’ve got to be prepared.”

The situation is unique today, with new and dangerous drugs contributing to the violence, he said.

“I have been out there on the streets every day for many years,” Smith said.“And what I see today is troubling. There’s a group of people that do not fear the law. There’s a group of people that are on drugs that you cannot imagine.”

Gang members have already begun to size Smith up, he said.

“This job is dangerous,” Smith said. “So is going to the corner store to get a quart of milk. This is what our kids see every day.”

Smith stressed a need to reduce crime at the intersection of 63rd and Zane Avenue, a frequent site for incidents where shots are fired. Large groups of people loitering at the shopping center ought to face legal consequences, he said.

“There’s a no loitering ordinance there and we have to enforce that,” he said. “We have to rid that area. We have to reclaim our streets one block at a time with love.”

Mayor-elect Lisa Jacobson said she believes the community is prepared to support both the police and the street team’s work.

“Every person in Brooklyn Park deserves to feel safe, and they don’t right now,” she said. “Every morning the first thing I do is look at my phone to see where there were the shots fired last night, and I call it a good day when my phone doesn’t have that email. But those days are more rare.”

The city needs to fund smaller youth programs in the community that keep kids out of trouble, and not just large programs with lengthy histories, Councilmember Boyd Morson said.

Councilmember Susan Pha concurred. “It’s OK to say we’re trying as hard as we can, but we need to try harder,” she said adding that the city needs to make financial investments into crime prevention and not just talk about it.

Politicians need to listen to the community rather than assume they know the answer to community problems, Councilmember Terry Parks said.

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