Community sounds alarm on reckless driving in Northside neighborhoods

Northsiders have begun to share their stories of reckless driving online and are asking city officials and MPD to take action. One of the greatest volumes of calls that 311 gets is reports of reckless driving in North Minneapolis.  Photo by Kenzie O'Keefe

Northsiders have begun to share their stories of reckless driving online and are asking city officials and MPD to take action. One of the greatest volumes of calls that 311 gets is reports of reckless driving in North Minneapolis. Photo by Kenzie O'Keefe

By Cirien Saadeh Staff Reporter

North Minneapolis is no stranger to  accidents, injuries, and fatalities caused by reckless driving.  A slew of recent incidents has motivated community members to speak up and out about an issue they feel has not received the attention or enforcement needed to end what many see as an epidemic. 

But the discussion of reckless driving in North Minneapolis has also been complicated by discussions of race and racism. Many community members want to separate the discussion of reckless driving from the Northside's ever-present discussion of racism, but the discussion is still, in many ways, understood through a racial narrative and racially coded lens despite a desire to move away from it.  And that discussion of race and racism, while important, may be a distraction from what Northsiders of all races and walks of life believe is a necessary conversation and necessary work to do: stop reckless driving. 

“It is not always a race thing, we just make it a race thing. People continue to make it about race, but it’s not about race, because little white teenagers speed in their car too,” said Lisa Clemons, a former MPD officer and Northside community member.  

Still, others believe that North Minneapolis' black community as well as other people of color communities in North Minneapolis, are being targeted in the reckless driving discussion and by MPD. Roxxanne O’Brien, a community activist and environmental justice organizer in North Minneapolis, is one such person. 

“Black people have always been targeted, especially in poor communities. We have always been targeted and we have always been the ones that law enforcement wants to keep control of.  Most of the crimes out here are crimes of poverty and it’s very easy for those who are oppressed to become oppressors, from stress and trauma,” said O’Brien. “Some people feel they need to be seen, so they drive fast, they try to have fun in a confined city of rules and oppression and people make impulsive decisions, that’s human.”

Webber-Camden  neighborhood resident Laurie Schlosser wants to see "fair and equitable behavior-based enforcement"; she has begun organizing Northside neighbors in the hopes of getting the attention of City staff and elected officials, as well as MPD.  Schlosser is a therapist who owns NCE Wellness and the adjacent yoga studio, The Yoga Room, in the Victory Neighborhood. 

“Over the last two years, it's been this steady increase on the roads where it's scary to get from my house to my job, which is only 1.2 miles away,” said Schlosser. She says social media has shown her how big the problem really is.  On Facebook she says she saw: “People coming out and their parked cars had been totaled overnight, people getting hit by uninsured drivers, people getting hit and the people are taking off at the scene. It was just this constant thing,” Schlosser said.

Schlosser, alongside other community members, has been circulating a petition asking for a response to their stories of reckless driving which they have been collecting across Minneapolis in order to show the impact of reckless driving in North Minneapolis. She hopes to pass it on to city officials, and MPD personnel, soon. 

Lynn Keillor, a Northside resident and freelance writer and editor, has also been asking for safer streets in her community. Keiller’s cars have been hit multiple times. The most recent accident was in North Minneapolis, another was in South Minneapolis, and one in Robbinsdale by a Minneapolis driver. All of her cars were totaled by uninsured drivers and two of the accidents occurred while her car was parked legally on the street.  Keillor became active in the ongoing community discussions after seeing the discussion take place on social media and after the death of two children last summer and a man, Jose Angel Madrid Salcidio, in the Folwell Neighborhood in May. 

“The most recent, my car was parked on my street overnight, and an uninsured, unlicensed driver claimed to be swerving to miss a raccoon. Their car was totaled and mine was totaled. That was five years ago,” said Keillor. “People are getting killed in these accidents, too, [by reckless drivers] and that’s not acceptable.”

According to O’Brien,  MPD needs to examine their own pursuit policies. O’Brien’s car was totaled two years ago when police pursued a “suspected” drug dealer who hit her car. 

“I was waiting for my daughters to get home from school and they were late. I was getting worried and was looking for my keys when I heard a loud crash. I went outside and it was my car. It was hit a tree, it had hit my neighbor’s car and their car had hit their neighbor’s car, and it was up on the sidewalk,” said O’Brien. “After I did the research police are only supposed to chase murderers, armed rapists, or kidnappers.”

DATA BREAKDOWN

A 2017 City of Minneapolis study, “Vision Zero,” noted that fatal car crashes in Minneapolis have decreased, but additional city data also shows that 2018 was the first year in several years in which speed-related traffic fatalities in Minnesota topped 100 people. An additional 284 people died from other traffic-related accidents in 2018. 

An analysis of 311 and 911 call data conducted by North News shows that North Minneapolis and other low income communities in the city are more likely to experience a disproportionate number of car accidents. 

Minneapolis does not have an active traffic enforcement unit, and MPD has only one has patrol car assigned to each ward, but according to MPD Public Information Officer John Elder, those cars are the first to get sent to a scene if there’s an incident, so they are infrequently patrolling for traffic violations. Members of the City Council have proposed the re-creation of the traffic enforcement unit and discussions are occurring about adding funding for that unit back into the Mayor’s Budget. 

“The nice thing about it is, the traffic enforcement unit will be legalized throughout the city. Traffic enforcement is where we are hearing the most complaints, the most concerns, and they were working on that to put into our next budget cycle,” said Elder. 

North News reached out to MPD for additional comment and to answer questions about community-birthed solutions to the reckless driving issue as well as the history of this issue. MPD officials have yet to respond to these additional requests for comment. 

Though data shows that North Minneapolis is not particularly unique in its incidence of reckless driving, many community members feel that it is. A spate of recent deaths and injuries along with social media outrage,  and racial coding have helped to elevate the topic and brought it to the forefront of North Minneapolis’ collective mind. 

“The reckless driving is city-wide. It just seems whenever you speak on anything in North Minneapolis, everybody spins it into a race issue. And that’s unfortunate, because Northside has some of the greatest people, living here, especially African-American. So I don’t know why people, both sides, make it about race,” said Clemons.

RECKLESS DRIVING ON THE NORTHSIDE

Carolyn Bastick moved to North Minneapolis in 2017; she lives at an intersection in Folwell. Bastick worked to have stop signs put in at the intersection by the City of Minneapolis, but believes the fact that she is a retired, British, well-educated, white woman is the only reason she was able to successfully  advocate for those stop signs. She’s also advocated for speed bumps on the street and the alleys, but the City charges community members around $7,500 for speed bumps on the street and $1,500 for speed bumps on the alley. 

“It’s like the wild, fu***** west out here. It’s lawlessness. People don’t care about themselves and they don’t care about the repercussions,’ said Bastick. “It’s a complicated issue. It’s everything from what MPD can do, the city can do, the parks can do. You just have too few people who have the ability to speak up and out, because the people that can be affected, the kids playing in the street and the highly stressed out single mothers are most affected, but just don’t have the time. And that’s the majority of the people here.” 

Bastick, like other community members, believes the City of Minneapolis should step up, but she also wants to see more enforcement by MPD and a cultural change in North Minneapolis.

WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE?

Community members, like Bastick, want to see community members continue to step up and continue to report accidents. They also want to see greater enforcement of existing street laws by MPD. 

“When you have a lawless attitude, nothing is going to work. Police need to be given the resources to enforce the law,” said Bastick. “The lackadaisical enforcement is a problem. I know people are getting killed, but they are getting killed by this too. They are turning a blind eye, because they feel there are other priorities, and this needs to be a priority.” Bastick believes that the current community organizing effort will help MPD and city officials prioritize traffic enforcement. 

According to Schlosser, MPD has said towing cars may be a meaningful consequence that ensures that people have a valid license and insurance before they can get back on the road. 

Clemons wants to see the City of Minneapolis take up the work. 

“I think they need a safe driving initiative, starting with radio announcements, ads in all the local papers in the community. The city needs to invest funds.  And the City needs to document the number of traffic accidents and the number of people injured or killed, because it’s not just North-specific,” she said. “We need to tell people not just to slow down, but why they should slow down.”

According to Council Member Phillipe Cunningham, his primary concern stems from community conversation. 

“I am working to address two issues within driving safety as a start. First, our community needs better access to driver’s education.  Additionally, there is a need for the reinstatement of traffic law enforcement to help keep our streets safe. Overall, we have seen safety on our roads has deteriorated for motorists, pedestrians and bikers alike,” Cunningham told North News in an email, “Drivers both young and older do not have access to driver training resources and materials. With drivers' education classes often costing upwards of $400 per student, it is important to provide affordable access to road safety and driving resources.”

Cunningham noted that this “Northside Drivers' Education Center” could be a multi-agency space that would provide driver’s education and driver’s safety courses. 

“The Center would focus on new drivers, as well as serve as a diversion program for older drivers who have historically got caught in the criminal justice system for traffic violations like driving without a license/insurance or moving violations,” said Cunningham. “This latter component is particularly necessary when supporting the MPD traffic enforcement division being reestablished.”

According to Schlosser and others, they have sat down with Jen White, Mayor Jacob Frey’s Public Safety Policy Aide, and are waiting to see what the Mayor includes when his proposed budget is released in August. 

North News attempted to reach city officials and staff for this story, but received no response. 

Community members have shared their petition with elected officials and MPD.  To learn more about the petition or the community advocacy, you can follow “Safe Streets Minneapolis” on Facebook. 

Kenzie O'Keefe