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Steve Scott
Phenomenal Film Handler

Posts: 1300
From: Minneapolis, MN
Registered: Sep 2000

 - posted 04-11-2006 05:36 PM      Profile for Steve Scott   Email Steve Scott   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 

A night of mayhem

A fight inside Block E preceded the fatal March 31 shooting on North 6th Street.
By Jeremy Stratton
Downtown community roiled by tragic March 31 shooting of Minnetonka man

The fatal shooting of a 31-year-old Alan Reitter as he walked with friends between Downtown bars on March 31 has people wondering about the safety of Downtown’s entertainment district, and Block E in particular, where drug-dealing youths are a daily sight, despite efforts by police and private security to reduce crime.

Insp. Rob Allen, commander of the Minneapolis Police Department’s 1st Precinct, pointed to apparent successes in that fight — increased arrests for truancy, curfew and drugs — and said the fatal shooting is not an extension of a culture of crime Downtown.

Soon after the shooting, police and city officials characterized the incident as a random act by a “deeply troubled person,” in the words of Mayor R.T. Rybak — an aberration that could not have been prevented.

In the days following, however, reports from witnesses and the defendant’s statement to investigators painted a picture of a volatile environment — one fight on Hennepin Avenue sidewalks, and another later inside a Block E theater that escalated in the complex’s skyway commons and may have led outside onto the streets and, ultimately, to tragedy.

Aberration or not, the tragic shooting may

overshadow the city’s recent advances in the area.

“How can you say it’s getting better when somebody’s killed?” Allen asked.

A ‘volatile mix’

Derick Dasean Holliday, age 21, allegedly fired the shot that killed Reitter as Holliday chased another man down North 6th Street, just minutes after police broke up a fight inside Block E — a clash between what media reports and witnesses describe as rival gangs — that started inside a movie theater.

Holliday has been charged on three counts, including first-degree murder, for which he could face life in prison. Reiter died later that night at Hennepin County Medical Center, and a memorial was started — and grew larger all week — near the parking lot where he was shot.

The night of the shooting, Chris Greising, a contributing writer for the Downtown Journal and Southwest Journal, started his shift at Block E’s Border’s bookstore at 5 p.m.

By 8 p.m., a larger-than-usual crowd had gathered — many, apparently, for the opening of the movie “ATL.”

“It seemed like a volatile mix of people all night,” Greising said.

About 9 p.m., Greising said a fight broke out on the corner of 6th Street & Hennepin Avenue, just outside Border’s entrance. Greising estimated about 50 people crowded around until police broke up the fight, and things then quieted down.

About two hours later, police responded to another fight, this time outside Border’s other entrance into Block E’s interior on the skyway level across from Applebee’s restaurant.

A witness told the Star Tribune that a group of about 30 people had come into the theater, where she was watching “ATL.” The group started “shouting profanity and flashing gang signs” and started fighting with another group of equal size.

At that time, Jake Matthew Christianson was just leaving another movie when “people started pouring out of the [‘ATL’] theater,” he said. Two groups of people — one wearing all black, the other wearing green sweatshirts or jackets, he said — moved from the third floor to the second-floor skyway commons, where they proceeded to fight.

Allen called the fight “a nasty one” — he and several witnesses said the combatants were throwing metal chairs from Applebee’s patio seating — but the criminal complaint said only that police broke up a crowd that was arguing in the lobby.

Block E management have declined comment on the events of March 31.

Holliday told investigators that he had gone to Block E that night to see the movie “ATL,” armed with a .44 Magnum handgun.

According to the complaint, Holliday was among those who moved outside after the second fight, where “the arguing continued and the defendant [Holliday] pulled his gun out and shot into the air.” He then chased an unidentified man, who ran through the parking lot at 18 N. 6th St., next to Gluek’s.

Holliday allegedly fired several shots at the fleeing man. One of them struck and killed Reiter, who was walking past the lot with his fiancee and other friends.

An off-duty, uniformed police officer, gave chase and arrested Holliday — who at one point raised his gun at the officer — with the help of private security as the defendant tried to enter Karma nightclub, 315 1st Ave. N.

Aftershocks of the violence

Last month, the city released the results of a 2005 survey, in which 86 percent of respondents said they feel “very safe” or “somewhat safe” Downtown.

The Monday following the tragic shooting, a thin lunch-hour crowd walked the sidewalks and waited for buses outside Block E on Hennepin Avenue. Some agreed that Downtown is safe; others felt less secure, especially at night. (The survey question did not specify a time of day.)

Ameriprise Financial employee Justine Hartz wasn’t surprised to hear a shooting had occurred three days earlier. She and a friend had been predicting something like this would happen. “I definitely don’t feel safe on parts of Hennepin Avenue,” she said, adding that the shooting makes her uncomfortable.

Another woman at the bus shelter, who did not give her name, said that, while the shooting scares her a little, “If I didn’t feel safe, I wouldn’t be Downtown.”

Nakeshia Pigue from Richfield said she avoids Downtown after dark. “At night, I try to get home or stay inside,” Pigue said. “There’s people selling drugs; it’s not safe.”

One person who said he does feel safe Downtown “nine times out of 10” is Greising, the Borders employee who witnessed the March 31 fights that preceded the deadly shooting, and has personally been the victim of serious crime. Last fall, he was mugged on Hennepin Avenue just blocks from Border’s. His attackers broke his collarbone.

During the day, the Minneapolis Community and Technical College student walks the eight blocks from school to work at Border’s. At night, it’s more sketchy, he said. “You get offered drugs.” For night shifts, he parks in a nearby ramp and takes skyways, but he takes late-evening smoke breaks outside “without worry.”

Downtown: a ‘Safe Zone’?

City officials, meanwhile, have repeatedly pledged that the city remains safe despite recent deadly shootings in Downtown’s Entertainment District and in Uptown.

“Downtown is safe,” Mayor Rybak said, “but we need to continue to work hard to avoid incidents like this. This horrible incident is a setback, but it doesn’t mask the great things that happen every day.

“We’ve put an enormous amount of effort into the initiatives in the heart of Downtown,” he said, citing Safe Zone cameras, increased patrols and the Police Department’s coordination with private security, including a common radio channel. “All of that has helped, but we need to go even further.”

Allen said that police and private security had been briefed to prepare for exactly the scenario that occurred March 31. “It was eerie,” he said. The training — and collaboration with private security — worked well, he said; police retained a perimeter and apprehended the suspect within minutes.

Rybak noted the 30 police officers were within a block of the shooting that night. “If police officers alone could have prevented an incident like that, it wouldn’t have happened,” he said.

Kent Warden, executive director of the Minneapolis Business Owners and Managers Association (BOMA) said that the Security Collaborative has done some good things. “Statistics indicate it’s improving, [but] an unacceptable incident did happen,” he said.

“The first line of defense is more officers on the street,” Warden said, noting that he didn’t know enough about the defendant or incident to know if it could have been prevented.

Rybak promised additional police officers in the Safe Zone this summer, and he said that some of the new 71 police hires will be assigned Downtown, starting in July.

Gov. Tim Pawlenty weighed in on the recent violence last week, saying that Minneapolis should spend some of its Neighborhood Revitalization Program funds on crime and safety. Rybak took issue, saying the governor should instead restore cuts in state aid.

The two met face-to-face to discuss the city’s public safety issues at the governor's mansion last Friday.

“It’s hard to blame the law enforcement,” said Dario Anselmo, president of the Warehouse District Business Association (WDBA). A longtime advocated for more cops and improvements to the Downtown streetscape, Anselmo also cited City Councilmember Don Samuels’ comments about personal responsibility. “We’ve got kids growing up thinking they should own handguns and bring them [Downtown]. That needs to be dealt with.

“It starts at home,” Anselmo said — with things like scholarships, youth programs and educational opportunities, as opposed to “the desperation and death” of the business of gangs, drug dealing and handguns.

Anselmo has seen the crime statistics that show Downtown and Safe Zone crime held in check, relative to the city as a whole, but said it comes down to public perception and personal experience.

“For me, it’s a feel thing,” he said. “How does it feel when you’re on that corner? Moving from the Pantages to the parking ramp? That’s the big issue.”

Kari VanDerVeen and Carl Hamm contributed to this story.

In 1990, just a block down Hennepin Ave. from Block E at the Skyway Theatre, similar violence broke out after Boys in the Hood, wounding seven, but no deaths. Of course, the local media used this as another good excuse to scare suburbanites out of downtown, but this is still news to most everyone I've discussed it with. Minneapolis people are tough about their city, as most have their whole lives situated within their neighborhoods or blocks. Save the doorway directly in front of Block E, I haven't witnessed this incident disrupt most people's downtown lives. Block E is mainly a draw for people attending an event at Target Center or for nightlife lovers.

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