Voices from Cedar-Riverside

The tragedy might have been avoided with more crime prevention resources.

Lolla Mohammed Nur

It was four days after last weekâÄôs shooting when I visited the Brian Coyle Center, and it seemed like any other typical Thursday.

Teenagers played basketball on its concrete gym floor, children diligently focused on their homework as tutors looked on. A health careers fair and food shelf that morning attracted more than 400 people.

Despite the centerâÄôs vibrancy, the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood is still reeling from last MondayâÄôs drive-by shooting. The unnamed victims of the shooting, two young men, were both outside the center when they were gunned down that evening.

Both were taken to Hennepin County Medical Center and survived. However, the crime is a blow because the neighborhood had experienced little violence since the fatal September 2008 shooting of 20-year-old Ahmednur Ali, also outside the Brian Coyle Center.

Residents are frustrated because they believe last weekâÄôs shooting could have been prevented and that it unnecessarily casts the neighborhood in a negative light.

“Things are normal, but of course people are afraid, especially East African parents, because they came to the U.S. for safety [and] opportunities,” said Abdirahman Mukhtar, youth program manager at the center.

He said he noticed a slight decrease in the number of residents at the center last week.

“Any time a situation like this happens people will react to that. Parents will protect their kids, and we understand that,” he said.

“The sad thing is most people donâÄôt know that the [center] is the safest place in the neighborhood, especially [for] youth.”

If thereâÄôs a crime, like last weekâÄôs shooting, the victims and suspects usually come from other neighborhoods such as Eden Prairie and Hopkins, Mukhtar explained âÄî not from Cedar-Riverside itself.

“People always have this perception about the neighborhood âĦ or the center being a bad place but they donâÄôt see all the positive activities happening âĦ And they donâÄôt know the dynamics of the crimes that happen here,” he explained.

People forget the “big picture,” that last weekâÄôs shooting âÄî like last monthâÄôs shooting in Arizona âÄî is an example of a nationwide endemic of youth violence and easy gun access, he said.

“Most people would call it âÄòSomali youth issuesâÄô or âÄòSomali violence,âÄô but itâÄôs not about Brian Coyle,” he said. “ItâÄôs about youth violence and what the city, state or neighborhood organizations need to do about it.”

Crime in Cedar-Riverside decreased after the 2008 shooting, a trend many attribute to the neighborhoodâÄôs evening safety patrols and opportunities provided for youth at the center.

But residents and staff feel the neighborhood âÄî with its concentration of low-income families and unemployed youth âÄî needs more resources and services than just the center.

Among its many services, the center provides a food shelf, job counseling, computer training and homework help.

The centerâÄôs gym is the only building owned by the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board that doesnâÄôt have a wooden floor, according to Mukhtar. Playing on the cement has caused injuries in the past. In spite of that, the gym holds physical education classes for students for nearby schools and activities for neighborhood youth.

“Most people donâÄôt know thereâÄôs over 1,200 young people under the age of 18 that live in the neighborhood, and this is the only gym and the only place they have for structured programs,” he said. “Most people donâÄôt understand the importance of this, but to these kids it makes all the difference because they call this [center] home.”

The strain on the centerâÄôs resources inevitably led the center to recently lay off its security guard, Center Director Jennifer Blevins said.

The center worked with the city, Augsburg College and Fairview Hospital in 2009 to pool together funding to hire a guard, but after its largest source of funding significantly cut its budget, it had to choose between cutting security or programs.

Still, the neighborhood saw successes in crime prevention last year, such as the installation of a new coffee shop to create jobs for unemployed youth.

“The bigger picture is that as long as we have the highest concentration of families living in poverty in the state and we have children and youth that have bad experiences, when they reach adulthood and theyâÄôre not prepared for the labor market, weâÄôre going to have problems with violence on the streets âÄî not just here but everywhere,” Blevins said.

Mohamed Jama, an 11th grade student at Ubah Medical Academy, cofounder of the Cedar Riverside Youth Council and a member of the Cedar Riverside Neighborhood Revitalization ProgramâÄòs board of directors, echoed similar sentiments.

Jama wants to see more resources and indoor spacing allocated for teenagers. “ThatâÄôs one of the major problems … We need to have programs for 18-year-olds because they have no place to go,” he said. “If we want to stop [crime], we need to give them something âĦ productive.”

Still, Jama thinks the center is trying its best, despite what residents perceive as neglect from the University of Minnesota, Augsburg College and the city officials.

“To those who associate us with violence, first come to our community and understand what we go through,” Jama said. “There are struggles this community has âÄî big ones, not small ones âÄî but at the end of the day, change will come [to] this community.”


Lolla Mohammed Nur welcomes comments at [email protected].