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Welcome to the Police-Free People’s Republic of Powderhorn Park

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of
AP Photo/Craig Mitchelldyer

You probably know the old expression: a conservative is a liberal who’s been mugged. Well, I must have been either an unusually committed liberal, or just dim-witted, because it took me getting mugged and assaulted over a dozen times before I saw the light. (I lived for three years in a “bad” neighborhood in Brooklyn, as part of my own quest to better understand inner-city America. I should have just watched the movie "Menace II Society".)

Well, some Minneapolis liberals are on their way to becoming conservatives, however reluctantly. And the rest of us get to see a real-time live experiment in what “Defund the Police” looks like. There was a fascinating story in The New York Times recently: “A Minneapolis Neighborhood Vowed to Check Its Privilege. It’s Already Being Tested.” It’s the old tale of the road to hell being paved with the best of intentions.

Powderhorn Park is “a tree-lined Minneapolis neighborhood known as a haven to leftist activists and bohemian artists.” And the no doubt well-meaning, politically progressive, culturally sensitive residents of Powderhorn Park “have vowed to avoid calling law enforcement into their community.” The article explains that they believe doing so “would add to the pain that black residents of Minneapolis were feeling and could put them in danger.”

What could possibly go wrong? How could anything but unadulterated good could come from such an admirable, even noble, commitment to racial and social justice?

The Times notes, “already, that commitment is being challenged.” Things certainly got off to a festive start. “Two weeks ago, dozens of multicolored tents appeared in the neighborhood park.” Multicolored tents, that already sounds like a beautiful celebration of the wondrous rainbow of diversity.

Homeless people in Minneapolis heard about the police-free nirvana and decided en masse to set up camp in the newly liberated people’s republic. “The multiracial group of roughly 300 new residents seems to grow larger and more entrenched every day.” The article goes on to note that they do laundry and listen to music. That sounds fun, who could be against doing laundry and listening to music?

But the Times finds hints of trouble in paradise. “Some [in the homeless camp] are hampered by mental illness, addiction or both. Their presence has drawn heavy car traffic into the neighborhood, some from drug dealers.” And several of these happy suburban campers have overdosed on drugs and were taken away by ambulance.

Shari Albers has lived in Powderhorn Park for three decades and is a community leader and she supports the initiative to make the neighborhood police-free. But her new neighbors worry her, and she fears a home invasion. “She imagines using a baseball bat to defend herself.” She adds, “I am afraid.” My advice for Ms. Albers is: get a gun.

I know that sense of fear. When I lived in Brooklyn, every single day I had to brace myself for the sooner-or-later inevitable encounter with a young man with a gun, pointed at my face, demanding money. And although I knew to always carry on my person at least $20, so as not to disappoint aforementioned young man, each encounter carried the very real risk this young man might shoot me, just for the hell of it.

Some of Shari’s neighbors have already rethought their welcome arms, no-police policy. “'I’m not being judgmental,’ said Carrie Nightshade, 44, who explained that she no longer felt comfortable letting her children, 12 and 9, play in the park by themselves. ‘It’s not personal. It’s just not safe.’” It is interesting to note, the one thing liberals do care about more than social justice is the safety of their children. Not yours, mind you, but theirs.

Two women interviewed by the Times decided not to report to police any property damage, whether to their own homes or homes of their neighbors.  “Rather than turn to law enforcement if they saw anyone in physical danger, they resolved to call the American Indian Movement…”

Now, the A.I.M. is no doubt very effective at protesting against Chief Wahoo (the former logo of the Cleveland Indians). But it seems like the very definition of madness to expect them to send their braves to Powderhorn Park in time to save anyone in imminent physical danger. (Would smoke signals even be visible?)

Tobie Miller, Ms. Albers’s 34-year-old daughter, is another neighborhood resident. Ms. Miller is taking sensitivity courses to challenge her white privilege. And she is offended that some of her neighbors object to these 300 newcomers.  

“To the extent that illegal activity is going on in the park, Ms. Miller does not blame the tent residents. ‘My feeling around it is those are symptoms of systemic oppression.'”  

Well, presumably one of the victims of systemic oppression, Ms. Miller must have in mind Sheldon Stately, Sr. age 43. “Mr. Stately said he had been homeless for three years after he could not make rent and lost his identification, which he could not afford to replace.” A Minnesota state ID card costs $21.50. Over a span of three years, Mr. Stately would have had to have saved almost two cents a day to afford a new ID. If this is not systemic oppression, well, then, I just don’t understand what that term means anymore.

“Mitchell Erickson’s fingers began dialing 911 last week before he had a chance to even consider alternatives, when two black teenagers who looked to be 15, at most, cornered him outside his home a block away from the park.”

One of the two teens pointed a gun at Mr. Erickson’s chest and demanded his car keys. Mr. Erickson must have been a bit ruffled, because instead of his car keys he handed over the keys to his house. Their plans thwarted, the youngsters proceeded to steal a neighbor’s car.

Well, Mr. Erickson is a lucky man. He could easily have been shot. And I guess he has a right to take reckless chances with his own life. But as a citizen of our country, he does not have the right to take reckless chances with my life, or the lives of others. But that is just what he proceeds to do.

“Mr. Erickson said later that he would not cooperate with prosecutors in a case against the boys.” So sooner or later, these boys are going to commit more crimes. Innocent people will be harmed. It is entirely possible they’ll kill somebody, somebody’s child, or parent, or brother or sister. But Mr. Erickson would rather they remain free and on the loose, than to cooperate with law enforcement.

And he now even feels bad about calling the police at all. ‘I regret calling the police. It was my instinct but I wish it hadn’t been. I put those boys in danger of death by calling the cops.’”

First of all, these “boys” put themselves in danger by deciding to rob people at gunpoint. They voluntarily assumed this risk. Their victims have not voluntarily put themselves in danger. And the odds are infinitely higher that these boys will eventually kill an innocent person than be killed by the police.

So, this bold social experiment is only two weeks old, and already some of these Minnesota liberals are having second thoughts. Some, but far from all. I myself am intently curious to see how all this proceeds from here. Let’s check back in a month or two, and follow up on how things are going in the People’s Republic of Powderhorn Park. It should be very interesting.

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