Melvin Carter: Feeling at home in our city starts with feeling safe at home

A few weeks ago, my Tuesday morning began like most. My wife, Sakeena, and I got our kids ready for the day, still adjusting to our new home and expanded family, alongside the demands of my campaign for mayor of St. Paul. I let the dog out, dropped my daughters off at gymnastics and headed to Mayor Coleman’s annual budget address.

But my day was interrupted by a troubling call from a neighbor: “I think someone is breaking into your house.”

My heart sank in my chest. I rushed home to find an intruder fleeing through my back yard. I followed him to his car, where I recorded his license plate number and waited for police to arrive as he drove off.

I felt violated, but I also felt relieved. I was thankful that my wife and children were not home during the break in, and that everyone was safe.

But some items I cherished were stolen from my home, including a locked box containing two handguns that my father passed down to me after he retired from the St. Paul Police Department.

My father was one of the first black officers to serve in St. Paul, and he drilled my sisters and me on gun safety from an early age. I was raised in a family that treated firearms with fear and respect, and I have always understood the profound responsibility that comes with legally owning and securing firearms. That is why I have always stored them in a secured lockbox hidden in my home, which only I know the code to.

Dad worked midnights when I was in grade school, walking the beat on Rice Street and the East Side. I remember how we used to tiptoe around the house to let him get the sleep he needed before heading back out.

These are reminders to me of the 28 years my father spent in harm’s way, so St. Paul families like ours could sleep peacefully every night. They are two of my most prized possessions, and realizing they had been taken was devastating to me.

From Dad’s work, I understood early on that homes get broken into. As a city council member, I read monthly updates on crime statistics across the city, examined trends, and searched for policy solutions. But in the moment it happened to my family, we felt completely unprepared — and fundamentally unsafe.

The most valuable thing my family lost cannot be easily recovered: our peace of mind. Long after material issues are settled, we are still grappling with our sense of security, a feeling of violation and the need to feel fully at peace in our home once again.

This experience has become too common for St. Paul families. Last year alone, the St. Paul Police Department received more than 11,000 calls about a burglary or robbery in our city. No parent should have to reassure their sons and daughters that they are still safe in their own home.

I am fortunate to have caring neighbors who noticed that something was wrong and took quick action. I know I am not unique in this privilege; I think that everyone in St. Paul can identify a neighbor, family member or friend who they know is looking out for them. It is one of our greatest strengths as a city — that we know and care about our neighbors.

We need to build on the shared trust in our city to make St. Paul safer for everyone. As my family knows firsthand, there is nothing more important to feeling at home in your city than feeling safe in your home. By supporting our communities and making the investments needed to build safer streets and stronger neighborhoods, we can build a safer, stronger and more inclusive city that works for all of us.

Melvin Carter is a candidate for mayor of St. Paul.


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