A request for state assistance to help respond to gun violence and gang activity appears to have quickly gained traction with Gov. Tim Walz and DFL lawmakers from the Twin Cities.
The request —$20 million in this year’s supplemental budget — would be distributed to small organizations that work to respond to the impacts of gun violence and to de-escalate confrontations that can lead to gunfire.
The Minnesota Safe Streets Coalition made the request at a press conference called last week partly in response to efforts from legislative Republicans to push for a stronger police response to crime in the Twin Cities.
“We’re saying we have a plan to work with law enforcement, a robust plan to work on intervention and prevention,” said Al Flowers, a Minneapolis activist and former candidate for mayor.
Flowers said the GOP plan focused on policing while the coalition has what was termed a holistic approach to crime prevention. “The police can’t stop it and the community can’t stop it without law enforcement,” he said.
Asked about the proposal Wednesday, Gov. Tim Walz said he was intrigued. “I think it makes sense,” Walz said.
Even small amounts of money to a nonprofit can make a significant difference in “impacting communities, especially African-American communities, that are being hit disproportionately by gun violence,” he said.
Thursday, his budget and revenue staff will release an updated forecast that will be used by the Legislature to decide how much to spend in a supplement budget, which is used to make relatively small changes to the two-year, $48.3 billion budget adopted last May.
Walz, who said he will release his suggested budget on March 10, has tried to lower expectations for the supplemental budget, despite the state having a $1.33 billion surplus. Programs that he has endorsed total just a few hundred million dollars, ranging from $30 million for rural broadband connections to $250,000 for farm safety measures.
But the DFL governor said he did not rule out the $20 million request. “The problem certainly warrants a serious look,” he said.
Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan also said she was intrigued by the proposal, especially as someone who used to run a small, nonprofit organization, the Children’s Defense Fund-Minnesota.
“When we are able to provide funding to smaller, community based nonprofits, we speak directly to the communities they represent,” she said. “That can be incredibly effective.”
“It’s the folks who are on the ground and in many ways on the front lines,” she said of the groups that could see money. “Too often we talk about big-dog organizations and don’t focus on the folks who are doing the actual work on the ground.”
Wednesday, after unveiling their legislative agenda, the 19-member People of Color and Indigenous Caucus of the Minnesota Legislature was asked about the request.
Rep. Rena Moran, DFL-St Paul, said she considered the concerns raised by the community groups valid, but wanted to wait until the state receives an updated forecast of revenue for the next few years. “We have a community of people who are saying you underinvest in our community,” Moran said. “It is important for us to hear from the communities that have been impacted and bring those voices into this body.”
Sen. Jeff Hayden, DFL-Minneapolis, was less cautious. “Yes, we should do that,” he said. “We should fund it.”
“We need to be able to fund those groups that are working closest with some of the young folks and others who are making some poor choices,” Hayden said.
Hayden said that when someone fires a gun, often the person hit wasn’t the intended target. “It hits people like my sister,” Hayden said, referencing the death of Taylor Hayden, who was shot during an exchange of gunfire between two groups in Atlanta in 2016. “We need to get upstream with these young folks. We need to get upstream with these old folks and help them find better ways to settle their grievances and find better ways for them to be more productive in this society.”
Justin Terrell, the executive director of the Council for Minnesotans of African Heritage, said poverty, poor schools and unstable housing “create a very low threshold for people to trip over and commit crimes.”
“Everybody isn’t a victim of systemic issues,” he said. “Some people just make bad choices. But in reality, policing and arresting people is not going to solve these issues. We need significant investment in communities, specifically the African heritage community to make sure folks … who are willing to run into danger to disrupt and respond to issues in the community have the support they need.”
Among the groups involved in the coalition are the 8218/Truce Center, Mad Dads, A Mother’s Love and the NAACP of St. Paul, said Alicia Smith, a community organizer in Minneapolis.
“You can hear sound bites and get cool quotes on the internet in terms of crime, but what you don’t know is the trauma that happens as a result,” Smith said. “It isn’t just the person who is a victim, it’s also the perpetrator’s family that suffers so that our whole community suffers, and we have to live in the midst of that.”
Miki Frost founded the 8218/Truce Center in St. Paul to work on conflict resolution and introduce young people to their history via an African-American museum. “We need to address bullying. We need to address the different beefs that people are having,” Frost said. “We take and mediate the differences that are happening in the neighborhood so they don’t escalate and become something tragic for the families involved and us as a community.”
“We live here. Everyone of us here have family members, friends … who have lost their lives. We are all hurting,” Frost said. “We are the ones who are seeing these issues on a daily basis. We know what it takes to combat some of these problems. We need the state to give us the resources we need to fight these problems.”