After a shutdown pandemic year that still saw more shootings and gunfire incidents than in any year in recent history in Duluth, terrifying pops and bangs, followed by fleeing chaos on our streets, have only continued into 2021.
And now Duluth has its first homicide in two years. A 17-year-old kid from Proctor, accused of pulling a handgun from his waistband and firing into a crowd. A 22-year-old on the ground, a gunshot wound to his head, pronounced dead later at the hospital.
There apparently was some sort of disagreement, a fight. Doesn’t really matter about what; more and more, it seems, and with increasingly tragic results, guns are being used to settle disputes, or at least bring them to a sudden end.
Blame violent video games, violent movies, inadequately treated mental health challenges, a spreading national gang and gun culture, idiocy, a lack of consequences for criminal activity, or court and criminal-justice systems that keep returning violent offenders to our streets and neighborhoods. Blame what you want, but as communities, we need to figure out how to fix it.
How long before an innocent child is struck and killed by a stray bullet in Duluth, as we’ve seen happen, heart-wrenchingly, in recent weeks in the Twin Cities, Chicago, and elsewhere not too far from home?
“This is an example of guns being in the hands of people who are using guns to solve conflict instead of alternative non-violent methods,” Duluth Police Chief Mike Tusken said in a statement Monday, two full days after the shooting. You get the feeling he’s running out of what to say anymore?
Almost three full days passed before Duluthians finally found out which of their neighbors was killed in the tragedy. The victim’s identity became known through court filings, rather than being provided by police or the city. Releasing the shooting victim’s identity could “impede the investigation,” police had claimed until then. How exactly? Investigators already had surveillance video and witness statements. For crying out loud, the accused shooter had even made an initial appearance in juvenile court. Two others also had been charged. Yet the city refused to identify the victim, even though that’s public data under Minnesota law.
The city’s ongoing withholding of public information under Mayor Emily Larson, in an apparent attempt to “control the narrative” and shape public opinion and our city’s image, only shortchanges residents’ need to know and our right to know. Operating from a default position of secrecy flies in the face of what, unfortunately, has largely been only lip service paid to transparency by Larson and other city officials.
Tusken also said in his statement, “The Duluth Police Department works actively to take guns off of the streets every day. We work with the Lake Superior Violent Crimes Task Force, and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (BATFE) to take guns out of the hands of people who are possessing or using firearms illegally.”
As much as those efforts are appreciated — and as much as some pretty impressive police work Saturday led to a swift arrest — statistics for violent crime in Duluth remain alarming. In less than half a year, Duluth has had 14 shootings, ahead of the pace of 2019 when there were 22 shootings. At least 35 gunfire incidents were logged last year, every one of them a potential tragedy.
City-Data.com reports the rate of violent crime in Duluth in 2019 was higher than in 84.7% of all U.S. cities. That’s even though, in the last five years, violent crimes and property crimes have gone down here, according to the database.
Another oft-referenced tracking site, Neighborhood Scout, has determined Duluth is less safe than 95% of U.S. cities. The chance of being a victim of a violent crime in Duluth is 1 in 291. The statewide chance is 1 in 423. The chance in Minneapolis is 1 in 105, making our state’s largest city safer than only 3% of cities nationwide.
What's happening in Duluth — and Minneapolis and elsewhere — reflects a growing emboldened propensity for pulling out a firearm to settle a dispute. And, without the deterrent of adequate consequences, for pulling the trigger.
Even without Saturday’s shooting death in the 100 block of East Third Street, there’s plenty to be concerned about when it comes to crime and violence and our safety. Duluthians can’t be blamed for wondering aloud whether our expectation of safety is in jeopardy. We can’t be knocked for demanding action — as well as the reliable, timely information we need from our police and City Hall.