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A Night at the Park. Or: On calling the police to resolve our discomfort

Julie Bluhm

One of my favorite things about summer in Minnesota is outdoor music. After the isolating, bone chilling winters that have me running from one heat source to another, the summer brings intense outdoor workouts, lazy nights on patios and music in the park.

As a city dweller, and social worker, my heart wrenches with concern during our coldest months, especially when I see neighbors who do not have comfort food or warm houses to retreat to during the winter. In the summer, this relaxes as I see an opportunity to enjoy, if even for just an evening, our common love of music, warm weather and being together — all imperfectly perfect.

Last Monday I was enjoying this ritual at Nicollet Island Park, manning the merch booth for my dear friend’s band. It was a night full of camaraderie and spontaneous authenticity. The main guitarist didn’t show, but the band was awkwardly honest about this and the crowd quickly bonded by supporting their effort to make it work.

A couple of songs into the set, a man entered at the front. Very dirty and carrying a large backpack containing all the tools required for daily survival, he was clearly without a place to sleep. He loved the music. Cheering loudly, he danced near the stage and sang along with the songs. He was, by far, the most engaged fan. Song by song, it was obvious that he was keeping the band motivated to keep playing, despite their repertoire being severely limited.

At one point, this number-one fan exclaimed loudly that he hoped he had enough money to buy a t-shirt. Within 15 minutes, at least three people came by our booth, wanting to purchase an extra for him. When we presented him with it, he made a grand show of taking off his dirty shirt, throwing it aside and putting on the clean one. After he stood up to model the shirt, several others came over to the booth to purchase their own.

This is starting to sound awfully idyllic, isn’t it? Some of you may even be thinking about this as a clear example of “Minnesota Nice.”  So, if my former paragraph exhibits a proud, shiny kind of Minnesota Nice, my next one illustrates a darker side of our state that too many in our community experience every day.

Shortly after the feel-good t-shirt moment, two police officers entered from the same place the man had come in — off to the side, near the stage. They approached hesitantly and quickly identified the one who didn’t look like the others. The one they must have been called to rescue the rest of us from.

No guns drawn, or excessive reactions, they just walked up to the man and talked to him. Then they took him by the arm and guided him away. The music stopped. The crowd began to boo. The band asked the “po po” not to take away their biggest fan. The police yelled at the crowd, “Don’t boo us. Boo the person among you who called us.” The man looked resigned. Not surprised. Just disappointment, maybe like Cinderella when her fancy clothes turned into rags. Some of us were angry. Most of us just wanted to help and to recapture the happy.

Eventually, the man came back. The band played another song, dedicating it to him. He stood up at the end of the song and faced the crowd. He thanked us for having his back. The night went on. We all went home.

I think we did okay. We must do better.

Julie Bluhm is the CEO of Guild Incorporated, a non-profit organization that helps people with mental illness lead quality lives by providing integrated treatment and services, including housing and employment. She is a resident of St. Paul’s Lowertown.

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Comments (6)

  1. Submitted by Pat Berg on 07/23/2018 - 09:49 am.

    Makes no sense

    I don’t understand – on what grounds were they justified in taking him away? Despite the phone call, once they arrived, could they not see that he was causing no disruption, destroying no property, performing no trespass, injuring or threatening no people, and so on? Some anonymous person gets to have him removed when any observation of the situation clearly shows there is no grounds for doing so?

    This just doesn’t make any sense. Minneapolis police, start learning to use some critical thinking skills!

  2. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 07/23/2018 - 10:38 am.

    My 2¢

    Offhand, I think the headline at the start pretty much explains what this was all about. Someone was made uncomfortable by the homeless man’s public persona – as a confirmed introvert, I fully understand, and probably would share, that discomfort – and since whoever was uncomfortable wasn’t going to confront the guy – for what, exactly? – the fallback was to have the police do the dirty work. Having that feeling of discomfort doesn’t mean you have to **act** on it, however.

    I’m not always sympathetic to the police, but in this case, I think they were absolutely spot-on: “Don’t boo us, boo the person who called us.” We expect the police to respond to complaint calls, and that they did. Fortunately, the homeless guy returned, so there was at least some degree of positive resolution, but this sort of thing happens all the time, and for many of the same kinds of reasons, which boil down to “This person makes me uncomfortable [meaning “I choose to be uncomfortable…] because s/he is black / white / gay / straight / dressed strangely / loud / etc.” Essentially, it boils down to “They’re not like me, or my friends,” and therefore, deserve suspicion. Anyone who doubts that we are still tribal creatures needs only to look at a couple examples of this sort of thing to see just how little we’ve progressed beyond that.

    • Submitted by Pat Terry on 07/23/2018 - 11:15 am.

      Police

      The police have to do more than follow the direction of someone who complains. Its their job to determine if the complaints are legitimate – not simply take the caller at their word.

  3. Submitted by Connie Sullivan on 07/23/2018 - 12:23 pm.

    Unfortunately, the person who called the police to remove a loud fan probably hid behind anonymity–may not have actually used their cell phone to speak to the police? Texted 911? (Can you do that)?

    These police did the right thing: They came, spoke with and “removed” the obstreperous fan, then not only let him go, they let him go back to the concert! It seems the cops here should be celebrated for restraint, and Minnesota Niceness.

    Good example.

  4. Submitted by Chuck Rowan on 07/24/2018 - 04:21 pm.

    The police need to do their job.

    Like you I enjoy the many venues the Twin Cities has to offer live outdoor music in the summer. I have been to the Nicollet Island park for music and think it’s a wonderful place for everyone to enjoy music, whether they are a homeowner or homeless. I think it’s greatl the audience appreciated this fellow and bought him t-shirts. I do have a problem however that they saw it fitting to boo the police. The police have an extremely difficult job to do and who are we to judge? How many people would like the police come to their place of business and boo them because they disagreed with the job they were doing? These are police, not professional athletes. Furthermore, did the audience know this man’s history with the police? Maybe he had an outstanding warrant, maybe he had been disruptive a few blocks away. Whatever, it doesn’t give people the right to disrespect the cops. But, the police should have gone about their business quietly, they did not have to say boo the caller knowing this would incite the audience. Hope the music was good.

  5. Submitted by Frank Phelan on 07/24/2018 - 08:55 pm.

    Just Wait a Minute

    So one person gets to call the shots and have the police at their beck and call? What if someone else calls 911 and says, “Hey, the guy at the concert, everything is cool. He’s fine and we’re fine, just tell the cops to leave him alone”? Would the cops then have to take that as a directive?

    And what about professional policing? Can we expect that in exchange for a decent wage and fringe benefits? Are they incapable of getting a read on a situation and assessing any potential threat or criminal activity? Are the police unaware that homelessness is not a crime?

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