Friday, August 16, 2013

My childhood memories slowly swirled past like the wind through the trees.

From 1975 thru 1994, I lived on the east side of St. Paul, about a mile or two from the 3M complex. It was, for the most part, a quiet, friendly middle-class haven where there was little fear of being outside at dusk. As a pre-teen, I had the standard directive of heading home when the street lights came on (in the summer, that usually meant 9:00!).

My mom still lives in the home she purchased for us in July 1986, which was two months before I was to begin my senior year of high school. Even though I moved away from the area nearly twenty years ago, I still visit my mother on a regular basis. With each passing year, I've witnessed the ol' neighborhood becoming more dilapidated and crime ridden. Long time businesses like the Perkins restaurant on Old Hudson Road or the local car wash on Ruth St. & Hwy 94 have shut down, while their respective parking lots look like messy gardens in desperate need of weeding. Meanwhile, robberies of neighborhood convenience stores (as well as home burglaries) have become commonplace.

While all that sounds depressing enough, I can't tell you how anguishing it was to hear of a recent violent incident that has gained literally worldwide attention.

Four young males have been arrested after the senseless, brutal beating of a man on a late-night walk Sunday on St. Paul's East Side, police said Friday.

The victim, Ray Widstrand, 26, of St. Paul, reportedly was in critical condition at Regions Hospital with potentially fatal brain swelling.

Police found Widstrand lying on the ground, bleeding from his nose and mouth, his pants removed and shirt torn, according to a criminal complaint filed by the Ramsey County attorney's office.

"An innocent man was walking down the street and brutally attacked by a group of youth," said Sgt. Paul Paulos, a police spokesman. "He was out for a walk and decided to go through this group and was assaulted and knocked unconscious."

This particular story has gained such attention for the wrong reasons. With all the uproar over a single youth being "gunned down" in Florida (i.e. Trayvon Martin; and I'm certainly not diminishing that tragic incident), where's the outrage over a white male being brutally attacked by multiple black youths? Is it not OK to speculate that this incident might have been racially motivated as well?

Certainly one may be tempted to chalk this up to being an isolated (albeit horrific and senseless) incident. But as was reported in the St Paul Pioneer Press on Thursday, residents constantly live in fear due to almost daily unrest in the area.

The firecracker-like gunshots at night have been more constant since the warm weather arrived in late May.

"You can see the flashes here and there," said Constance, not her real name because, as her mother put it to me, she "does not want to end up dead or the house burned down" if I identify her by name.

Fearing one day an errant bullet might strike her home, Constance's kids no longer watch the TV or play video games in the main-level living room. They are upstairs, hopefully away from the line of fire. Roving bands of youths congregate near the home her grandparents have owned for more than 80 years, brazenly blocking traffic or daring motorists to hit them.

Constance, who lives near the site where a 26-year-old man was brutally beaten by a gang of thugs Aug. 4 in St. Paul's Payne-Phalen neighborhood, feels as if she's living in Baghdad or Damascus, not in the Saintly City.

She has witnessed neighbors' doors and windows knocked down or broken by burglars who take off with TVs and other valuables. Other homes have been stripped of copper wiring. A few weeks ago, the single mother's 9-year-old son, shooting hoops at a nearby park, was roughed up by a group of juveniles for no reason.

The response to her calls to police about the gunfire and break-ins demoralized her to the point she no longer bothers to dial 911.

"The cops take their time coming and then don't do anything. It's a waste of time," she lamented Wednesday. "I just stay here and try to mind my own business, but if I had the money to do so, I would absolutely move out."
Truth be told, my eyes welled up with tears as I read the whole story. I can't imagine feeling like a prisoner in my own home to the point where I have to consciously be in a different area of the house by nightfall in hopes of avoiding a possible stray bullet.

On Thursday evening, hundred of east St Paul residents, as well as Mayor Chris Coleman, Police Chief Thomas Smith and Ramsey County Attorney John Choi, gathered in the basement of the local church to discuss the ongoing concerns. Whether anything productive came from that meeting will yet be determined. In the meantime, the Police Chief emphasized that there will be at least 30 more police officers placed in the area.

With that being the case, how long before we start hearing excessive claims of police brutality? You'll know when it happens, too, as the Revs. Sharpton and Jackson will be in town posthaste....unlike when young Mr. Widstrand was brutally beaten.


No comments: