Blueprint for Action raises youth violence concerns

Cedar-Riverside community members question the results of the seven-year-old plan to prevent youth violence.

by Nick Wicker

Though crime is down overall citywide, elected officials and community members are concerned about the well-being of youth.

They’re questioning the effectiveness of a youth violence prevention plan that was established seven years ago, saying more needs to be done to curb youth violence in the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood.

“There’s not enough engagement in the community to really break down what the [plan] is,” said Abdirahman Mukhtar, a community engagement coordinator at the Brian Coyle Center.

Known as the Blueprint for Action to Prevent Youth Violence,  the plan was established by former Mayor R.T. Rybak.

At a Cedar-Riverside public safety forum in October, some community members voiced concern over the neighborhood’s level of safety, saying the Blueprint lacked Somali input and representation.

Cedar-Riverside resident Burhan Mohumed was 18 years old when the plan rolled out, and he said he doesn’t remember it being enacted or offering input.

“Anytime that some type of plan is put together, rarely is the community involved,” he said.

Mukhtar said in the plan’s first year there were a number of young people murdered in Cedar-Riverside, which prompted peaceful protests on the streets of the West Bank in the summer of 2009.

Sasha Cotton, the Minneapolis Health Department’s youth violence prevention coordinator, who is involved with the plan’s implementation, said one of the goals of the Blueprint was to reach a point where zero people below the age of 18 were killed in the city.

“We were fortunate in 2013 to actually get to that goal,” she said.

In the plan’s infancy, it was meant to be a broad outline for the entire city to follow, she said, adding that it didn’t focus on specific neighborhoods.

In the time since the creation of the plan, Cotton said each year the city produces a progress report on its effectiveness.

According to the 2014 report, the number of youths arrested and suspected of violent crimes reached a ten-year low, and overall city perception of neighborhood safety rose 3 percent.

“A lot of us are excited because youth violence is down so much,” Mayor Betsy Hodges said at a meeting Thursday. “The challenge is that the violent crime that does happen still happens among youth.”

Ward 4 City Council President Barbara Johnson said additional steps are being taken to curb youth violence, like completing analysis that would show who is susceptible to committing crime.

Johnson said Cedar-Riverside should expand upon already-existing solutions for reducing youth crime, like after-school activities.

“They’ve got a community center that’s oversubscribed; it’s crowded,” Johnson said. “We need to look at those kinds of issues, and then as a city make some choices about where we spend our dollars.”

Ward 2 City Councilman Cam Gordon, who represents the University of Minnesota and surrounding neighborhoods, said increasing youth employment opportunities and creating more after-school activities in Cedar-Riverside are high priorities for him.

“I think there is a lot more to do and a lot more things that we could focus on,” he said.

Hodges said at the Thursday meeting that she plans to redouble efforts already outlined in the blueprint, adding that she wants it to refocus on the needs of the East-African community.

Cotton said she will use input from Hodges to amend the plan by the end of this year.