The Oracle

The game no one wants to play

Concerns over possible gunshots plague the Hamline-Midway neighborhood.

Chloe McElmury, Senior Columnist

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Concerned and cautious neighbors alike frequently comment on neighborhood happenings in the Midway Neighbors Facebook group. Posts cover practically everything, from advertising community events to asking for home repair advice. It’s heartwarming to see neighbors near and far helping each other out. However, more frequently than anyone wants, posts about break-ins, attempted robberies or car thefts and a regular to the group: “Was that gunshots or fireworks?” litter the page.

Moving from the small town of Lake City, Minnesota to St. Paul, I had many adjustments to make and lessons to learn regarding  my new neighborhood. It was a huge change in scenery and population coming to college. I grew up with about 5,000 people and most of my family lived a couple blocks away. I had known 90% of my grade since preschool. In the last few years of high school, we had had a couple of lockdowns that involved individuals with guns in the neighborhood, but I was relatively sheltered from harm and violence.

With this naive and sheltered past, I never thought I would be sitting alone on the windowsill in my first-year dorm room, listening attentively to the sounds of my new neighborhood. Surely, the noises went on too long to be gunshots. They must be fireworks, right? I heard emergency sirens every day, like a bell tolling the time. I tried to convince myself I was safe watching from the third-floor window, out of harm’s way. However, the reality was and is, the Hamline Midway neighborhood has violence and crime just like anywhere else.

In a June 2017 article published in the St. Paul Monitor, Jane McClure lays out conversations about crime with the Midway police, then-Ward Four Council Member Russ Stark and residents. It is important to understand how the Police Department breaks up the city of St. Paul. The Midway neighborhood is part of the Western district, along with Como, St. Anthony Park, Front, Frogtown, Merriam Park, Summit University and Grand Ave. neighborhoods, all the way through Highland Park.

According to McClure’s article, “there has been a 26-percent increase in weapons discharged, or shots fired calls” in the Western District. This discovery “launched what has become a frequent debate, over whether noises are indeed shots fired or firecrackers.” Residents are encouraged to call in, even if they are unsure exactly what the noise is.

In community meeting notes from November 9, 2016 hosted by Russ Stark (who is now City Council President) on public safety and youth engagement, the St. Paul Police Department (SPPD) noted a rise in crime even back then. In 2016, citywide shots fired were also up from the previous year.

I see fear from these statistics reflected in some of our student body, and even in my own family’s concerns for my safety. I remember when I first moved to St. Paul to attend Hamline, I was warned not to walk along University Ave. at night, and especially not alone. I was encouraged to make male friends so that I would feel safer walking off campus. Riding the Green Line, I felt paranoid and felt strength having multiple friends riding with me. When I moved off campus my sophomore year, my grandmother would repeatedly ask if I felt safe. Although I did in my house, I couldn’t help but look behind my shoulder walking home from my night class.

According to an October article by McClure, the SPPD has approved plans to open a substation at Midway center, in one of the vacant storefronts owned by RK Midway. This is an effort to combat concerns in the neighborhood, what Stark reports as “an increase in drug dealing, more calls about shots fired and more reports of assaults.” He hopes “having the substation there [will act as] a deterrent.” While it’s important to also highlight and remember the positives of our neighborhood, issues like these can’t simply be ignored.

Many of us might joke about playing the game of gunshots or fireworks, but the reality is we can work together to make a better and safer neighborhood. We already have an incredible community, which is apparent for students like me by the Midway Neighbors group. I see and admire the community for their attentiveness, want for safety, and constant consideration for their fellow neighbor. As Midway resident Chay Bailey said in a comment in the group, “There are a lot of great people, neighbors, and aesthetics that make our neighborhood charming but it’s just a few bad apples that [give] off a bad smell.”

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The game no one wants to play