In most communities, “downtown” is the bustling heart of the city where business people speed walk the streets with lattes and laptops by day, and couples stroll arm in arm from restaurant to entertainment venue by night. Downtown should be “the place to be”, but in Duluth, downtown is downtrodden.
In the past three months, several businesses have fled their downtown offices and moved up the hill to Hermantown leaving downtown property owners holding an empty bag and a city unwilling to help. The Duluth Chamber building on the corner of 1st Street and Lake Avenue lost three tenants in the last month. Will the Chamber be next?
These moves have nothing to do with COVID and everything to do with the state of Duluth’s downtown. The checkerboard of commercial buildings with endless potential and a Great Lake view should go for a premium, but because the city refuses to acknowledge and manage the growing drug and homeless problems in the area, you couldn’t pay a business to open up shop.
Employees fear for their safety and their vehicles. They can’t get from their car to their office without being hassled by panhandlers or seeing drug paraphernalia on the sidewalks. Some businesses have taken on the extra expense of hiring security to walk employees to their cars to make sure that they are safe. One might ask, “Where are the Police?”
Well, the Duluth Police Department was one of the first to vacate downtown, building a multi-million dollar headquarters up the hill on Arlington Road.
Duluth has been importing its current drug problem from places like Minneapolis and Chicago for nearly a decade now, but the last three administrations, including one that was ironically run by a former police officer, have failed to identify and deal with it.
Today, downtown business owners call the police to remove vagrants from the front of the businesses or to ticket cars parked in their lots, often inhabited by drug users sleeping it off, only to hear “There’s nothing we can do.” But that doesn’t seem to stop the police from putting tickets on the vehicles of tourists and local people trying to do business downtown.
Why is there “nothing they can do”? The 2019 DPD budget was $20 million dollars, they’ve got riot gear and warrior training, and boast they are the 3rd largest department in Minnesota, but they can’t seem to chase some drug dealers out of town and move the homeless people away from businesses?
Of course not, because their hands are tied by a city administration that can not come to terms with the disaster that is Duluth – the city relies too heavily on tourism to tarnish its top destination credentials in the short term even if it means destroying the city in the long term.
This summer when the George Floyd riots erupted near 27th Avenue in Duluth, resulting in a Kwik Trip employee being dragged from the store and beaten, the Duluth Police were not allowed to wear their expensive riot gear, and it took the St. Louis County Sheriffs to disperse the crowd with pepper spray because the DPD was not authorized to use it.
The sad reality for Duluth residents is that the police department works for the Mayor – not us. The Chief risks losing his job if he strays from the Mayor’s narrative, leaving the citizens to bear the burden of a downtrodden Duluth.
Twenty-Eight Shootings this Year
Already this year we’ve seen four more shootings than all of last year. People don’t just shoot people for no reason. You might find a domestic situation with gunfire – but as recently reported by the Star Tribune the officer-involved shooting above Sammy’s Pizza Lincoln Park differs from what was first reported. The victim’s story varies drastically from initial police reports. There was no evidence found of a gun in the apartment, no evidence of gunfire, and no victim of domestic assault on scene. The shooting victim claims he was locking his door when it suddenly erupted in bullets. Officers are not trained to shoot through doors. What really happened here?
This is an unusual time and often fear will play a factor in these situations, but lawyers for the victim will be suing the City of Duluth and this one incident could cost taxpayers millions of dollars.
Most of the shootings that have been reported include statements like “victim was known to the shooter” or “there is no risk to the general public”. Unfortunately, stray bullets can’t distinguish the general public from their target. Reports have also claimed that recently witnesses refuse to talk, something that wasn’t generally a problem before. It doesn’t take Sherlock Holmes or Dr. Watson to decipher these clues – these shootings are drug and possibly gang-related.
Time is running out to save Downtown Duluth – and the rest of the city. Our citizens deserve to be and feel safe. It’s time for the Mayor to set aside her idealized version of our desperate city and let law enforcement crackdown on the growing problems we face.
Check back soon for Part 2 of Downtrodden Duluth where we examine the connection between the crime, the shootings, and the homeless issues facing the city.