Dozens of south Minneapolis residents gathered at a recreation center in the Corcoran neighborhood to voice concerns to local, state and Metro Transit officials about crime and unsafe conditions involving drug use on transit.
Hosted by Ward 9 Council Member Jason Chavez, the listening session was spurred by growing concerns about transit safety after a steep decline in ridership during the pandemic. Those concerns came to a head late last month when a trans woman was violently attacked at the Lake Street/Midtown light rail station, leaving her hospitalized.
The panel was made up of Chavez, state Rep. Samantha Sencer-Mura, Minneapolis Public Schools Board Member Collin Beachy, Trans Equity Council representative Nomi Badboy and multiple Metro Transit officials, including Interim General Manager Lesley Kandaras and the agency’s new police chief, Ernest Morales III.
Several residents shared their experiences and concerns at the Chicago Lake Transit Station, the Lake Street/Midtown Station and on the trains themselves. They recounted witnessing large groups of people doing drugs openly, unhoused people congregating at the stations and violence, like a shooting on a downtown light rail station.
“In the last four months my team has responded to more than 30 overdoses. Seven of them didn’t have a pulse but we brought all seven back due to our Narcan training,” said Muhammad Abdul-Ahad, executive director of T.O.U.C.H. Outreach, a violence intervention group.
One resident talked about considering quitting her job if she’s required to return to the office in order to avoid using the light rail, which she said is a stressful experience and requires being on high alert. Another attendee discussed having to leave the train halfway through his commute from the airport and walk home after several people started smoking something off of a piece of tinfoil in front of his son.
Jeffrey Wilson, a Metro Transit bus driver for more than 10 years, relayed his experience and the experiences of other drivers, including one instance where a driver was held at gunpoint.
“I hope we’re not just putting another plan in place to let it die in three months, you should be out here more than once or twice a year,” Wilson told the panel of officials. “I’m here to speak on behalf of a thousand drivers — we don’t feel safe at all.”
Immediate plans to improve safety and conditions of the stations will involve the addition of 24-hour supplemental security, as well as deep cleaning and repairs to the stations, Metro Transit officials said.
Metro Transit continues to implement its Safety and Security Action Plan, which involves increased wages for its officers and community service officers, a security officer pilot program at two light rail stations and a de-escalation training program for its bus and light rail operators.
Efforts are also underway at the Legislature, where two bills — one to use mental illness professionals and social workers to do outreach while using police agencies to enforce a code of conduct, and another for civilian staff to enforce fares and provide help to riders — are being debated.
Despite discussion of improving public safety at the stations and on the trains and buses, solutions proposed by residents did not involve police. The residents called for more social services — drug treatment for those experiencing opioid addiction, as well as housing and support for those experiencing homelessness.
“I don’t ever want to criminalize chemical dependency,” said Morales, echoing the residents. “We heard of the issues here in this room. We know what the problems are. We need to come together collectively to find the right answers to the problems that we’re experiencing.”