Less than a month after announcing his retirement, and while trying to squeeze in some vacation time, Duluth Police Chief Mike Tusken had to wish he was somewhere else last week, anywhere except in front of news cameras showing the community addressing after another shooting – another “terrible tragedy”, as he put it – in Duluth.
A day earlier, officers had arrested two 17-year-olds after a “disturbance”. Both of them, police reported, were in possession of loaded handguns.
Two days before that, a 17-year-old Duluth boy was shot dead, police said by another 17-year-old. The shooting has contributed to a count of now more than 20 incidents of gunfire in Duluth already this year, roughly the average for an entire year here.
“This is more of a trend we see in other cities where young people are involved in and involved in significant violent events: car hijackings, armed robberies, aggressive assaults, murders. It’s more of a broader trend that has stayed away from Duluth until recently, but we’re seeing it (now), ”said head Tusken at the July 5 press conference that his department streamed on social media. “This is a big concern for us.”
And of great concern to an entire Duluth community who, until not long ago, considered themselves largely isolated from the bloodshed and street justice often associated with youth in larger urban areas.
If ever there was a protective bubble over our city, it seemed like it was starting to crack with the pandemic, with criminals spending less time behind bars to avoid overcrowded locks and the easy spread of the coronavirus there and with programming, mentorships and other positive outlets for children – even school – stopped by COVID-19 restrictions.
The first year of the pandemic in 2020, shooting reports and shooting reports nearly doubled in Duluth to a record 41. This year, with the pandemic not over yet, is about on course to equal that increased total.
It is clear that this is no longer just a matter for law enforcement. This is a public health problem that we all need to possess. And while our legislators in St. Paul and DC struggle to agree on solutions or even strategies, more of us at local level are needed to act.
“We think that parents, we think that other students, other young people, do have information about who has weapons and holds on, about who commits gun crimes,” Tusken said. “Finally, we ask the public for their help. We do tips anonymously. We do follow up on all tips involving firearms. The only way we can ensure safety is to be able to make those meaningful interventions, interruptions and seizures of firearms before there is a tragedy. …
“We as a community must stand together. As parents, we need to ask questions about our children. “If you are a parent and you do not get feedback from your children that they feel that you are harassing or micromanaging them or hanging over them, then you are probably not asking enough questions,” said the principal. “It is important for us as parents to be really involved in what our children do, with whom they hang out, where they are going, (and) what is going on in their lives. “Parenting alone is not going to absolutely stop these events from happening, but it is definitely an important factor in how we treat our children.”
As Superintendent John Magas of Duluth Public Schools also pointed out in a statement last week: “Young people should not have to fear for their lives or have access to unsupervised guns. If there is a gun in the house, we do calls on parents to talk to their children about proper gun safety… Gun owners can make our homes and communities safer by storing their firearms unloaded and locked, with ammunition kept in a separate place, for access by children and others to prevent people who run the risk of harming themselves or others… Too many young people have died in our community and in the country due to gun violence. (The) safety of our students and staff is one of our top priorities and there are many things we do to ensure the safety of our buildings, but we can not do it alone. ”
Because gun safety is appropriately a high priority, Duluth Police have been using targeted application for years to remove firearms from our streets. That zeal cannot be allowed to wane.
“There are many things we do to alleviate gun violence in our community,” Tusken assured. “We are not waiting for tragedy to happen until we have a response.”
In addition, the Duluth PD announced changes so officers can better focus on higher-priority calls in June, with firearm calls increasing again this year and with the department among 22 officers. The police will spend less time collecting and exchanging information in motor vehicle accidents where, for example, there are no injuries, and the department will rely more on online reporting and on telephone responses to calls that do not require an actual officer.
The shooting on Saturday, July 2 that took the life of a 17-year-old Duluth boy at North 16th Avenue East and First Street was the kind of call no one in Duluth wants. “The strength of our (police) department is our community,” Tusken recalled. So it is going to take us all – parents, mentors, concerned neighbors and everyone – to end such calls and to address and reverse what has become a discouraging shift to young people who do not differ with their words or in other healthy ways do not solve, but with firearms and other weapons.