East St. Paul Residents Demand Action on Gang Violence

Updated: 01/14/2014 7:38 PM KSTP.com By: Stephen Tellier

A few hundred residents of the east side of St. Paul packed a local church on Thursday night, demanding solutions to the area's recent gang violence problem. The community meeting quickly got heated, as many neighbors, some of them victims of the violence themselves, vented their frustrations to city leaders.

The night began with a moment of silence for Ray Widstrand, a 26-year-old who was brutally beaten by a group of 40 to 50 people earlier this month. At last check, he was still listed in critical but stable condition at the hospital.

After that, very different emotions surfaced -- anger, fear, and a determination to stop the violence.

It was standing room only inside the meeting, as the police chief outlined the main problem: several instances of flash mobs since June 1, congregating near transit and bus stops, and engaging in violence -- sometimes, random violence.

Neighbors told city leaders that officers aren't responding to some disturbances and aren't cracking down hard enough on the gangs themselves. They also complained that many parents simply aren't monitoring their kids closely enough.

Even Mayor Chris Coleman insisted the city has to do more to combat the problem.

The police chief told the crowd he's already assigned 30 officers to the east side. Those officers do not respond to calls and are there to patrol and be on the lookout for the kind of flash mob violence neighbors are concerned about. But he also said the problem is larger than the police department and that parents and other community members need to do more to keep local kids out of trouble.