Living in the Land of Make Believe:  Capitol City Politicians Adrift in a Sea of Denial



Saint Paul Police Chief Todd Axtell went before the Saint Paul City Council and declared that Minnesota’s Capitol City is in the midst of a “public health crisis.”

Shots fired in St. Paul are up 67%.

Overall, major crime is up 17% this year.

That means more rapes.  More aggravated assault.  More murders.  More thefts.

More danger to the citizens of St. Paul.

A “public health crisis” indeed.

Chief Axtell is one of the most creative, innovative and community connected police chiefs in the nation.

When he stands before you and tells you that he needs more police, the community to be more involved and Saint Paul is a city in a “public health crisis” we should listen to what he is saying.

Yet, our political leaders in St. Paul live in a land of make believe.

Witness the profound statement of Ward One City Council member and Mayoral candidate Dai Thao:

“Folks I’ve talked to are really scared.”

Really?  You think?

I can’t imagine.  I mean, with 80 people already shot this year, many of them young and 65 percent of them African-Americans why would anybody be “…really scared?”

I don’t mean to pick on Councilmember Dao.  After all, he’s just one of many political leaders in the City who sails adrift in a sea of denial.

The entire St. Paul City Council has immersed itself in ignoring the growing violence throughout St. Paul in lieu of their own pet projects.

Whether it’s Ward Three Councilmember Chris Tolbert’s advocacy for a grotesque mass density development on the Ford Plant property or Councilmember Russ Stark’s obsession with creating a new bureaucracy for garbage pick-up in St. Paul, it is apparent political leaders have taken their hand off the rudder.

There’s plenty of time for the City Council to debate resolutions condemning Donald Trump.

Lots of time to figure out how to raise property taxes by up to 30% on taxpayers next year.

And even more time to figure out how to ring the city with hundreds of miles of bike lanes that we have no money to pay for.

But, there’s no time to deal with the city’s growing “public health crisis.”

Even the City’s representatives on the Ramsey County Board are out to sea.

Commissioner Rafael Ortega had time to raise his pay.  Increase the county sales tax.  And, maintain a $20 excise tax on the purchase of new vehicles in Ramsey County.

He hasn’t, however, had any time to tell us his plans for helping to make the City he serves safer for the taxpayers he insists maintain the standard of living to which he has grown accustomed.

Nor are there any political leaders in the City coming forward with proposals or plans to figure out how to get more police on the streets.

More community service officers in the neighborhoods.

And other tools to start bringing the growing menace of violent crime to heel in St. Paul.

Witness, too, the deafening silence of every current candidate for Mayor of St. Paul.

Candidates who have spent considerable time bragging about their advocacy of “sanctuary cities”, how they are more liberal than the other and how firmly committed they are to raising the minimum wage faster than the other can barely utter a peep about the growing violence in the city they hope to lead.

In a city with a “public health crisis” of crime one would think that violence in St. Paul against the people of St. Paul might rank in the top one or two issues of this year’s mayoral campaign.

There will, of course, be the usual declarations of concern.

The standard “there are too many guns on the street” and the “we need to stand in solidarity with one another” and “we must bring the community together to figure this out.”

Yes, there are too many guns on the streets.  Yes, we need to be part of the solution.  Yes, all of us need to come together to solve this public health crisis.

We, the people, already know that.

They, the politicians, think they’ve just invented fire.

I’m not a rocket scientist but let me offer a few specific ideas that I am glad to let anyone take credit for.

  • Let’s hire more police.
  • Let’s hire more police officers that reflect the diversity of St. Paul.
  • St. Louis, roughly the same population as St. Paul has about 1,230 police officers. St. Paul has roughly half the number.  Let’s pick a number – say, 200.  Let’s add 200 more cops.  If we need more, let’s hire more.
  • Convene a group of current and former members of law enforcement, former prosecutors, public defenders, judges and those who are acknowledged experts on “use of force” policies. Ask former Supreme Court Justice Alan Page to chair the group.  Don’t let a single elected official on the group on the group – including Sheriffs, County Attorneys and the like. Lock them all in a room until they come out with some specific ideas about how we can do a better job of dealing with policies impacting public safety.  Included in these ideas should be:

–      What are the “best practices” we should be implementing when it comes to “use of force” by our City’s law enforcement officers

–      How do we take a step back from shootings that may be “lawful but awful” and still ensure the safety of our police officers while maintaining the equal right of suspects to walk away from encounters with law enforcement?

–      Improved de-escalation tactics

–      Specific ideas on how to break-down the mistrust between members of our minority community and law enforcement.

–      Faster transparency from law enforcement and prosecutors about incidents involving use of force.  The greatest way to deal with suspicions about violent conflict between law enforcement and the people it encounters is to provide sunlight immediately.

–      Implement policies that underscore the obligation of law enforcement to engage in tactical retreat when such an option is readily available.

  • Let’s put some time and effort back into quality of life law enforcement. Where there is graffiti, let’s clean it up.
  • Where there are people living at intersections and begging for money, let’s intervene. Let’s get them off those street corners and get them the services and resources they need.  If we’re willing to let the little things slide it eventually ends up turning into big things.
  • We need to hire more community service officers, too. We need more people in our neighborhoods working with the neighborhood.  The fact that police are having challenges getting information involving the gruesome shooting of a two-year old baby this week it should be evidence that far too many people living in our neighborhoods don’t feel ownership in those neighborhoods.
  • Let’s have a Mayoral debate in every Ward of the City ONLY about public safety and what each candidate intends to do to make the City safer for EVERY resident of St. Paul. Have it moderated in such a way that candidates MUST present specific ideas and solutions – and then require they each must justify those policy proposals to one another. Assume that every candidate will tell us we have too many guns on the streets illegally.  Demand their solution for getting them off the streets. Boo them off the stage if they tell us the number one solution to making St. Paul safer is “more love, less guns.”
  • Let’s put a freeze on any new spending in the City of St. Paul that is not dedicated towards adding more police officers and community service officers to the streets.
  • Demand media outlets ensure their reporters be experts on issues related to public safety, law enforcement, the judicial system and anything else remotely related to these issues.
  • Resolve that none of us will believe that creating a hashtag or a post on Facebook, Twitter or some other social media platform means we are actually doing anything about making St. Paul safer.
  • Resolve that none of us, including myself, consider themselves to be experts on any of these issues unless we are, of course, experts on any facets of these issues.
  • Require every single District Council in the City of St. Paul to focus the next 12 months solely on matters related to public safety including requiring a minimum of 75% of their funds to be used to support events and initiatives focused on bringing neighbors together to talk about how to make their City safer.

Above all else let’s stop listening to elected officials and those running for elective office tell us that all we need to do is get guns off the streets.

Or, to those who tell us all we need to do is arrest everyone and throw them in jail.

In a city that is taking on water as violent crime grows it is time to spend far more time talking about how we must find the resources to make our city safe than spending time calculating how many human beings we can fit on the head of a pin on the Ford Plant property.

We don’t need a “Gang Summit” to get criminals to agree to a truce.

We need a “Neighborhood Summit” of every single neighborhood to talk about what each and every one of us can do to stop the escalation of violence and crime in our city.

There comes a tipping point in the life of every City when it comes to violent crime.

In the early 1990s Saint Paul nearly hit that tipping point.

Thankfully, thanks to the leadership of many different political, religious, community and business leaders, the City pushed back against crime and the criminals who committed it and restored hope and confidence in our future.

Today, the boat of leadership is adrift.

It is taking on water.

And if something and someone doesn’t step up soon to get their hand on the rudder we’re soon to sink even further into the Land of Make Believe.

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