Balloons idle above the trampoline and flowers wilt on its surface. Trinity Ottoson-Smith was playing in the backyard of her Minneapolis neighborhood May 15 when she was struck by a stray bullet.
The nine-years-old was caught in the crossfire of a shoot-out as gun-toting thugs drove along the alleyway behind her friend’s house in this pretty neighborhood. She died last Thursday.
Trinity was the second child to be shot in Minneapolis in three weeks. Six-year-old Aniya Allen was shot May 17 and died the following day. She took a bullet to the head as she ate McDonald’s in her mother’s car. Ten-year-old LaDavionne Garrett Jr. was shot in the head while sitting in his parents’ car April 30.
Welcome to Minneapolis, a city well on the way to eclipsing the violence that once saw it called Murderapolis.
One year after the death of George Floyd saw this city become ground zero for the defund the police movement, its people are paying for it with their blood.
Last night the city erupted in violence and flames once more as news that police had shot dead a black man wanted on a warrant was met with yet more looting and riots.
A harrowing photo shared by the family of six-year-old Aniya Allen lays bare the heartbreaking reality of Minneapolis’s surging gun violence and understaffed police force. The young girl’s grandfather, Kay G Wilson, is seen weeping over her casket on Tuesday, two weeks after she was shot in the head
The violence is most marked in the city’s embattled northside – with nine-year-old Trinity, six-year-old Aniya and ten-year-old LaDavionne all shot within a mile of each other – but it is not confined to it
Earlier, as crews began moving in to remove the concrete barricades that have sealed off the intersection of 38th Street and Chicago – the infamous location of Floyd’s death and a so-called ‘autonomous zone’ over the past year – hostilities and tensions roiled over.
One resident told The Daily Mail that living here was like ‘living in Palestine.’
When DailyMail.com visited Minneapolis last week we found a city under siege and under policed, its children dying – victims of the gun violence that has sky-rocketed in the past year.
Minneapolis isn’t the only city to have seen a rise in crime over the last year, but it is magnified here and the city has stumbled in the spotlight as it tries to reimagine public safety.
There have been 36 homicides so far this year, more than double the number at this point last year and more than four times that seen in 2019.
Car-jackings are up a staggering 222 per cent. Shootings have risen 153 per cent. Eighty per cent of the victims are black.
Minneapolis erupted in violence and flames once more on Thursday as news that police had shot dead a black man wanted on a warrant was met with yet more looting and riots. Pictured: Protesters setting a dumpster on fire on the streets of the city
Tensions roiled over as crews began moving in to remove the concrete barricades that have sealed off the infamous location of George Floyd’s death and a so-called ‘autonomous zone’ over the past year
One year after the death of George Floyd saw this city become ground zero for the defund the police movement, its people are paying for it in their blood
At time of writing, 211 people had suffered gunshots wounds so far this year. This time last year that figure was 81.
Gun theft from vehicles is up more than 100 per cent while the police department has seized 100 fewer guns this year than they had at the same point in 2020.
And while crime soars Minneapolis Police Department has lost one third of its force.
Disenfranchised and de-humanized, more than 200 police officers have either permanently left the already stretched department or signed off on disability.
The situation is so dire that last week Mayor Jacob Frey was forced to call for federal help to boost MPD’s flagging numbers as crime in the city spirals.
Aniya’s memorial on a corner in north Minneapolis is less than a mile from where Trinity was shot.
More than 300 people gathered there Sunday to take part in a Peace Walk. This, organizers said, was a call from the community to ‘put down the guns and pick up the love.’
The walk ended at Northern Memorial Hospital where ten-year-old LaDavionne lies in a medically induced coma.
The community has been reeling over three recent shootings that left two young girls dead and one boy in the hospital. On Sunday, more than 300 people turned up to walk between the N. Penn Ave – the site of Aniya’s fatal shooting – and northern Memorial Hospital, where LaDavionne is in a medically induced coma
Local resident Monique arrived at the march on Sunday with a fist-full of fliers, showing Trinity, Aniya and LaDavionne’s pictures and giving information about the $35,000 reward offered for any information that leads to the shooters’ arrests. She explained that just one day earlier, her godson, Eddie, was shot dead and her 23-year-old son was wounded by gunfire in the arm the day before that
Members of the community say the city’s gun violence is ‘worse than it’s ever been’ after the Minneapolis Police Department lost one third of its force in the past year
Local activist Marcus X, one of the organizers, told DailyMail.com, ‘This is what’s known as the Derek Chauvin effect.’
‘There’s shootings every single day and the summer hasn’t even started. All the police have PTSD, they’ve left, you don’t see police patrolling here. I know it and the gangs know it,’ he said.
‘I could shoot someone right now and walk five blocks home before the police would even come.’
‘The police have left and it’s unleashed the gangs.’
The violence is most marked in the city’s embattled northside – with Trinity, Aniya and LaDavionne all shot within a mile of each other – but it is not confined to it.
Speaking to DailyMail.com in an exclusive interview last week Aniya’s grandfather, local peace activist, Kay G Wilson, 53, described defunding the police as the ‘craziest’ thing he’d ever heard and warned that nowhere and no-one was safe.
‘Everyone is afraid to tell the truth. This is the truth. Who’s saying my grandchild’s name? Where are the protests for these children? Who’s saying their lives matter? Because their lives do matter,’ he said.
Wilson was very clear that the solution was more, not fewer, police. The only people who welcomed defunding the police, he said, was a handful of politicians and criminals.
Balloons idle above the trampoline where Trinity Ottoson-Smith was playing on May 15 when she was struck by a stray bullet
The nine-year-old girl was caught in the crossfire of a shoot-out as gun-toting thugs drove along the alleyway behind her friend’s house in this pretty neighborhood. She died in hospital less than two weeks later
Pictured above is the neighborhood of Cottage Park, where Trinity was shot dead
‘It could be anyone. Today it was my baby, tomorrow it could be your child,’ Wilson added.
Gregory and Veronique Johnson know the truth of that. Their 21-year-old son Charlie was out celebrating finishing his degree in Mechanical Engineering at St Thomas’s University Saturday May 22, when he fell victim to the random brutality of the city’s gun-crime.
Speaking exclusively to DailyMail.com, Charlie’s father described his son as both, ‘goofy’ and serious. He had, Johnson recalled, blossomed during his university years.
He said: ‘They got him as a boy and they gave him back to us as a young man.’ The statement hangs in the air before Johnson makes the heart-breaking correction: ‘Almost gave him back to us.’
Local activist Marcus X, one of the organizers, told DailyMail.com gangs and violence have become more prevalent since the city’s police department was stretched thin
Charlie was due to get his diploma and go home the next day. His plans for the summer had been loose; look for a job, take a road-trip, camp out with his friends. He had plenty of time to decide.
It was 2am and Charlie and his friends had been out at Cowboy Jacks downtown.
According to his father: ‘They started making their own ways home. Charlie and his friend were just walking.
‘They were on First Avenue heading north and they heard gunshots and took off running for their lives.
‘As they got to the corner to try to duck behind a building Charlie fell.’
He had been shot in the back. Ten people were injured in the gunfight that took place in the shadow of the Fourth Precinct building.
Charlie was declared dead on the scene along with a 24-year-old man believed to be one of the shooters.
Charlie’s friend only had his sister, Camille’s number and so the 24-year-old was the first to learn of what had happened to her brother and shouldered the burden of telling their parents.
According to Johnson what happened immediately after that was grim and ‘transactional.’
The family had to provide dental records to ID Charlie, a process that opened the cruelest glimmer of hope that maybe it wasn’t Charlie at all.
Today Johnson chooses to celebrate his son’s life rather than focus on the circumstances of his death.
He said: ‘He was the kid who moved off to college and the first thing he packed was his box of costumes – a hazmat suit, a goofy cowboy hat, his favorite thrift store T-shirt finds.’
In the days since his death friends and even brief acquaintances have come forward to share their memories of the tousled hair young man, whose heart was as big as his personality and as open as the future that seemed to stretch before him.
Local activists and community members have banded together to call for an end to the gun violence that has claimed these children’s and so many other lives. Pictured above are a group of children holding a banner that reads ‘We Demand an End to Community Gun Violence’
Marcus X told DailyMail.com there have been shootings every single day in the city with police officers hardly on patrol
The walk ended at Northern Memorial Hospital where ten-year-old LaDavionne lies in a medically induced coma
Each story is a comfort to the family.
Johnson admitted: ‘I think we probably feel guilty that a lot of these news stories passed us by.
‘We saw reports and thought, “Oh poor family.” Well, it doesn’t always happen to someone else.’
In the immediate aftermath of the shooting Johnson, a native Minnesotan, said that the city, ‘was pretty dead to us.’
‘It just seemed hopeless,’ he said. But then he and his wife and daughter went to the site of Charlie’s shooting.
Johnson said: ‘As a family we stood on the sidewalk and tried to follow his footsteps just a little bit.
‘And we were standing on the corner, and we were fairly composed, and this gentleman glanced our way and straightened his spine and turned his body to look at us.
‘With tears flowing down his face, he put his hand on his heart and said: ‘I’m Charlie.’
‘And he’ll never know how much that meant. That changed our lives. We have faith. The city is full of beautiful people with great hearts and love all over.
‘And it’s a minority throwing bullets around and there’s a lot more of us and we’re a hell of a lot stronger and we can take it back.’
It is a sentiment expressed by many who walked for peace on Sunday, among them Trinity’s parents who carried a picture of their child and wore T-shirts bearing her name.
Gregory Johnson’s 21-year-old son Charlie was out celebrating finishing his degree in Mechanical Engineering at St Thomas’s University Saturday May 22, when he fell victim to the random brutality of the city’s gun-crime
Charlie had been walking home with a friend one night when they heard gunshots and took off running for their lives. He was due to get his diploma and go home the next day
So many of those who were there have had their lives forever scarred by the city’s gun violence. All noted that the problem has become infinitely worse across the past year.
Tanya, who asked DailyMail.com not to use her full name, was there when Trinity was shot. It was her children with whom Trinity was playing that day.
It is her house that is peppered with bullet holes. It was Tanya who held Trinity while she waited for the police and paramedics to arrive.
She said: ‘The shootings have got worse. It never used to be like this. I’d move if I could but it’s not easy for a single mother with four children.
‘It’s worse than it’s ever been. It could have been anyone’s kid. It could have been mine.’
Monique arrived at the march on Sunday with a fist-full of fliers, showing Trinity, Aniya and LaDavionne’s pictures and giving information about the $35,000 reward offered for any information that leads to the shooters’ arrests.
To her, as so many, this is personal. She explained: ‘My godson, Eddie, was shot dead yesterday and my 23-year-old son was shot two days ago. He was lucky it was just a wound to the arm.’
Talk to anybody in northern Minneapolis and you will find a person who has been directly impacted by gun-violence – often more than once.
In the past year while people have marched under the banner of Black Lives Matter, countless shootings and killings have gone unmarked. It is an epidemic tearing through the city.
The corner of N 36th Street and N Penn Avenue is now the site Aniya’s memorial: where mourners have laid down stuffed unicorns, cuddly toys, candles, and flowers
KG Wilson, whose mission has always been to quell gun and gang violence, is now committed to helping bring justice to the families of the Trinity and LaDavionne, as well as his own
Nekima Levy Armstrong, a civil rights lawyer and long-time racial justice activist has been one of the police department’s fiercest critics, but according to her the effort to dismantle the department had moved forward without the input of many black residents.
Speaking of the city council members who pledged to defund the police: ‘They conducted no research, consulted no experts…They should have specifically come to the black community because we are the most likely to experience police violence as well as community violence, but they didn’t.
‘We shouldn’t have to choose between no police or corrupt police.’
But that is the choice that many have been given and the consequences have been devastating.
Elisha Johnson, 29, is the cousin of Trinity’s mother. She was there on Sunday, walking for peace, calling out for change. She and Trinity’s mother grew up here together just a few blocks away.
She told DailyMail.com that there was no doubt that the situation was getting worse but that she was heartened that so many had turned out for the walk.
She said: ‘I’m glad that the community has come together. This has to stop. We have to stand up and say, enough is enough, before any more babies are killed.’