The city's turnaround is the reason President Barack Obama chose north Minneapolis as the setting for his first speech outside of Washington D.C. on the issue of gun control. The president, who has made gun control his chief initiative in his second term, spoke Monday, Feb. 4, to a national audience and said regardless of a person's political views, now is the time for action.
"We don't have to agree on everything to agree it's time to do something," said the president, who offered his remarks at the Minneapolis Police Department Special Operations Center, 4119 Dupont Ave. N. The site is just blocks from several shootings, including the shooting of 5-year-old Nizzel George, whose teenage murderers recently plead guilty to the crime. The center is also near the location of the still unsolved shooting of 3-year-old Terrell Mayes, Jr., who was killed in his home by a stray bullet.
Prior to his nationally televised remarks, President Obama, along with U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, Minnesota Senators Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken, Representative Keith Ellison (D-MN), acting director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF), B. Todd Jones, Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton, Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak and select members of law enforcement met privately with several area individuals whose lives were directly impacted by gun violence. The private roundtable lasted nearly an hour.
"If we're serious about preventing the kinds of tragedies that happened in Newtown, or the tragedies that happen every day in places like Chicago or Philadelphia or Minneapolis, then law enforcement and other community leaders must have a seat at the table," said Obama, while flanked by nearly 100 members of various city and state law enforcement officers. "All the folks standing here behind me, they're the ones on the front line of this fight. They see the awful consequences – the lives lost, the families shattered. They know what works, they know what doesn't work, and they know how to get things done without regard for politics."
During his public remarks, which lasted about 15 minutes, the president reiterated his call for legislation that he said can reduce the number of gun crimes in the nation. As a part of the president's plan, he called on Congress to enact legislation to make mandatory criminal background checks for all guns sold in the U.S., limit the capacity of gun magazines to 10 rounds and to reenact the assault weapons ban.
"The vast majority of Americans – including a majority of gun owners – support requiring criminal background checks for anyone trying to buy a gun," said Obama. "That's common sense. There's no reason we can't get that done. That is not a liberal idea or a conservative idea. It's not a Democratic or Republican idea; that is a smart idea."
The president said it is past time we act to end the scourge of gun violence in the nation. But he said he needs the American people's help.
"The only way we can reduce gun violence in this country is if the American people decide it's important. If you decide it's important. If parents and teachers, police officers and pastors, hunters and sportsmen – Americans of every background stand up and say this time it's got to be different," said President Obama.
V.J. Smith, founder of Mad Dads, who met with the president, said though the mass shootings in suburban communities may have prompted the call for gun control, residents of inner city communities find themselves under siege daily.
"We have small massacres every day in Minneapolis and St. Louis and Detroit and New York (City)," said Smith. "We needed to do something a long time ago."
Smith said the color of the victims played a role in the reason there was little national outrage until now.
"It's (gun violence) happening to white folks now, but it's been happening to us on a daily basis," said Smith.
Mary Johnson, who said she spoke candidly with President Obama, said the president is sincere in his efforts to greatly reduce gun violence.
"He wasn't here just for show," said Johnson, whose son, Laramiun Byrd, was murdered in 1993.
Johnson reached out to her son's killer, Oshea Israel, and, eventually formed a bond with him. Together, the two travel the nation speaking on the ills of violence. Johnson and Israel are now next door neighbors.
"A change is going to happen," said Johnson. "This issue isn't going to be dropped."
In 1995, Minneapolis tallied 99 murders. At that time, political and civic leaders came together to address the issue and stem the tide of violence. In what has been termed the Minneapolis Model, a partnership was formed between police, politicians, community activists, clergy and residents in affected areas with a goal to empower citizens and end the culture of violence that was plaguing many neighborhoods. Since adopting the Minneapolis Model, crime in the city has been reduced by 40 percent according to city officials. This past year, the city totaled 41 homicides. In 2009 – a year where the city saw one of its lowest homicide totals in years, 19 people in the city lost their lives due to homicide.
"When it comes to protecting our children from gun violence, you've shown that progress is possible. We've still got to deal with the 60 percent that remains, but that 40 percent means lives saved – parents whose hearts aren't broken, communities that aren't terrorized and afraid," said the president. "If there's even one thing we can do, if there's just one life we can save, we've got an obligation to try."
Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak and Minneapolis Police Chief Janeé Harteau offered their support for President Obama's common-sense proposals for ending gun violence.
Rybak and Harteau joined President Obama for the roundtable discussion that included grassroots, community and law-enforcement stakeholders in the fight to end gun violence.
"The most important thing he did was listen — for nearly an hour — to people who day after day, are building peace on our streets. He knows that they, and all Americans, can help everyone in Washington understand that we need commonsense laws that make all of us safer," said Rybak.
"There is not one simple solution to ending gun violence, but all solutions are rooted in partnership. One of our greatest partners in the fight is President Obama, who supports law enforcement, understands the complexity of gun violence, and has the courage to seek out and implement solutions," said Harteau.
Hennepin County Sheriff Rich Stanek also participated in the roundtable discussion with President Obama. Describing himself as a strong supporter of the 2nd Amendment, Stanek said the problem is one of access.
"Gun ownership isn't a privilege, it's a right guaranteed by the Constitution," said Stanek. "We have an access problem; people already prohibited by law from owning or buying a gun should never have access to firearms. We shouldn't impose on the rights of law abiding citizens to try to solve this problem. Gun control alone will not solve the complex problem of guns and extreme violence."
"We know that the mentally ill are no more likely to become violent than the general population, but when mental illness is untreated there is an increased risk of violence," said Stanek.
In Hennepin County, we book nearly 38,000 people into the jail annually with an estimated one-third suffering from mental illness.
Congressman Keith Ellison (D-MN) said, "After suffering a shooting tragedy in our city only a few months ago, the residents of Minneapolis have rallied around common-sense reforms to keep our communities and our families safe from gun violence." Ellison was referring to the mass shooting at Access Signage Systems that killed six this past fall.
"In the wake of Newtown, Tucson, Aurora and so many others, we must find smart ways to prevent gun violence in every city in America. Today's forum with the President moves us closer to that goal," said Ellison.
At a packed community forum last week, Rep. Ellison announced he has invited Samir Rahamim, whose father was killed in the Accent Signage shooting last September in Minneapolis, to join him for the President's State of the Union address on Feb.12,. "Sami suffered a tragic lost. Yet he has stepped forward to make a difference in our community and our nation and I will be proud to have him as my guest at the State of the Union," said Rep. Ellison. "I hope his voice and activism will prevent another child from losing a family member to gun violence."
State Representative Raymond Dehn said, "It is an honor to have President Obama in town meeting with community leaders to discuss strategies aimed at preventing gun violence.
"Far too many Americans' lives are needlessly cut short by ongoing shootings, including six Minnesotans who were killed at Accent Signage, a company based in the district I represent.
"Sadly, our neighborhoods in north Minneapolis are no stranger to gun violence. Tragedies like the death of 3-year-old Terrell Mayes, who was killed by a stray bullet in late 2011, and 5-year-old Nizzel "Stewie" George, who was shot last summer as he slept on a couch at his grandmother's home will never be forgotten. We owe it to the parents and family members who lost loved ones to take action to reduce violence and keep our streets safe."
In Washington, D.C., Monday, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and college presidents from across the country called for an end to gun violence.
Since the Newtown shooting , 350 college presidents who have come together through College Presidents for Gun Safety, as well as the Executive Committee of the Association of American Universities (AAU) on behalf of its 60 university members, have signed a letter calling for political leaders to take concrete steps to prevent gun violence.