St. Paul mayor gets input on gun violence in first of three community gatherings

More than 200 people gathered at Central Baptist Church in St. Paul Thursday evening to brainstorm solutions to the city’s gun violence problem the day after a pair of back-to-back shootings left one person dead and another wounded.

The community meeting, the first of three organized last month by Mayor Melvin Carter’s office, brought together a diverse cross-section of the community for structured conversations with strangers about their experiences with gun violence and how to curb it.

“We’ve been saying for a long time that we need to try something different and we find ourselves still stuck in these cycles,” Carter said. “We’re bringing people together today to define what that something different is.”

St. Paul has seen a spike in gun deaths lately, and Carter is weighing adding a supplemental public safety spending proposal to St. Paul’s 2020 budget, which is due to be voted on by the city council in December. He plans to use the written suggestions that result from these meetings to inform his recommendations.

Irene Weaver, a chaplain with Camphor Memorial United Methodist Church in St. Paul, said her table included St. Paul Fire Chief Butch Inks, a city police officer and several young people from the community.

“I think it’s a good beginning,” Weaver said. “I think when he puts this together back at his office, I think he’s going to see some solutions come out of it.”

Underscoring just how persistent this problem is, two separate shootings occurred within 90 minutes in St. Paul on Wednesday afternoon.

St. Paul Fire Chief Butch Inks listens as JaRae Hall discusses gun violence at a community meeting at Central Baptist Church organized by Mayor Melvin Carter’s office on Nov. 7, 2019. (Nick Woltman / Pioneer Press)

The first killed 17-year-old Da’Qwan Jones-Morris, a senior at Henry Sibley High School and co-captain of the football team, at his home on the city’s West Side. The second, which occurred at the fuel pumps of a downtown Holiday gas station, involved at least one deputy U.S. marshal and left a man with injuries that are not believed to be life-threatening.

Two teenage boys have been arrested and charged with second-degree manslaughter in connection with the death of Jones-Morris, St. Paul police announced Thursday. The two teens were apparently playing with a gun when it went off.

To address the situation, four St. Paul officers and two sergeants who are usually assigned to the local FBI Safe Streets Task Force will be temporarily pulled from the task force to assist the departments homicide and gang units, St. Paul Police Chief Todd Axtell said. The FBI will also be “reorienting some personnel and assets … to St. Paul to help them with their current situation,” said Kevin Smith, spokesman for the FBI’s Minneapolis field office.

So far in 2019, at least 145 people have been shot in St. Paul — 25 of them fatally, according to the St. Paul Police Department.

St. Paul Police Chief Todd Axtell talks with Irene Weaver, a chaplain with Camphor United Methodist Church, during a community meeting on gun violence at Central Baptist Church organized by Mayor Melvin Carter’s office on Nov. 7, 2019. (Nick Woltman / Pioneer Press)

Several people expressed frustration with these numbers during Thursday’s meeting.

Jeanine Slonim, a nurse who lives in Highland Park, said she plans to move from St. Paul to “where I feel safe.”

”I don’t want to see the O.K. Corral when I go to BP to get gas,” she said.

Weaver underscored the human cost of each fatal shooting.

”When you look out and there are dead bodies — and these are young men — that could be a doctor, a lawyer, an engineer,” she said. “And they’re gone.”

Weaver said her table agreed that troubled youths need to know about the resources that are available to them, such as Ujamaa Place on University Avenue, a nonprofit that seeks to empower young black men.

Etoy Wilson, a retired Metro State University administrator who is now pursuing a degree in criminal justice there, served as a facilitator for one of the tables.

“It’s a beginning,” Wilson said said of the meeting. “It’s a powerful beginning. … This needs to continue.”


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