Meeting on St. Paul's east side violence gets heated - KMSP-TV

Meeting on St. Paul's east side violence gets heated

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Photo by Maury Glover Photo by Maury Glover
ST. PAUL, Minn. (KMSP) -

Several recent attacks on the east side of St. Paul have residents in the Dayton's Bluff neighborhood on edge and looking for answers, and city leaders met with concerned community members to discuss the violence at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday.

With a mob beating on the Fourth of July, a deadly fight a few weeks ago and a recent gang beating that left a 26-year-old resident critically injured, members of the community posed plenty of tough questions to police and city leaders. The heat in the standing-room only meeting wasn't just a matter of temperature as it became quite clear that residents' supply of patience is running low.

Many residents accused officers of inaction, citing multiple instances of crime in the community ranging from armed robberies to car thefts and trespassing.

"I can't arrest our way out of this problem," St. Paul Police Chief Tom Smith said, adding that he plans to personally join patrols in the area.

City officials say 30 officers have been assigned to patrol the city's east side.

The most emotional moment of the evening came when Ray Widstrand's father addressed the crowd. He got a standing ovation when he thanked the community for their efforts and support, but his son remains hospitalized following the beating on Aug. 4.

Nancy Finch first spoke with FOX 9 News six years ago after she caught footage of an armed melee outside her door. She lives just a block away from Arlington Lutheran Church, where the meeting was held -- and there's no hiding her frustration with city and police leaders when it comes to what she sees as a chronic problem that has plagued the area for years.

From her own front window, Finch recorded a violent street brawl involving two groups of young men who were fighting with pipes and crude weapons. At one point, someone even threw a wooden stick at her as she captured the incident with her video camera.

More than half a decade later, Finch says things haven't gotten any better.

"It has gotten worse, progressively worse, with large groups of young people hanging out, gathering in the middle of the street, stopping traffic," she told FOX 9 News.

Finch said groups of teenagers on the city's east side, particularly along Payne Avenue, have been causing problems for years, but it took the recent shooting of a 17-year-old gang member in a fight last month and the brutal beating of Ray Widstrand as he tried to walk past gang members fighting in the street to bring these issues to a head.

"It makes me angry because I am doing what I need to be doing," Finch said. "Paying my taxes, paying for the services -- and the services aren't here."

On Wednesday during his budget address, St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman called for an immediate increase of police presence in the area. Even though many who attended the Thursday night meeting told FOX 9 News they feel better after talking out their concerns with city leaders, Finch said it will take more than talk to make a change.

"The politicians have their own little discussions behind closed doors and spend our money, our taxpayer money, on frivolous, idiotic ideas like a ballpark in Lowertown when people are dying here from crime," Finch said. "It's ridiculous and they should be ashamed."

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