Readers Write: Crime in St. Paul, gun violence, Winston Smith – Minneapolis Star Tribune

I have been the owner of a small independent bookstore in downtown St Paul for over six years, and it did my heart no good to open Oct. 18’s Star Tribune to the dire headline “Anxiety grips St. Paul after mass shooting” (front page). I understand that violent crime is a problem and I am sure that the proliferation of guns, the isolation of the past several months and the fracturing of so many of our accepted social constraints (for better or worse) are all contributing factors, but our city of St. Paul is far from broken. I will leave to others the discussion of racism, homelessness and gun control, but I would like to point out the abandonment of local retailers to the quick gratification of online shopping has left our urban centers bereft of their very souls.
When the developers of St. Paul speak about “retail” they are usually referring to bars and restaurants or services such as dry-cleaning, not to the locally owned clothing, gift or department stores that used to be the heart of urban areas. When I brought my bookstore down from the Cathedral Hill area, a city official actually asked me why I owned a bookstore when “everyone buys their books on Amazon.”
There is a difference between entertainment venues and retail such as bookstores. Our staff know the people who live in the condos and apartments around us, and they also know the homeless on the streets around us. And we have relationships with both. We are open seven days a week so we are a hub for visitors, giving directions and offering advice on activities. We keep the outside of our physical site clean to make it inviting.
In so many ways bricks and mortar retail keep our downtowns more livable. But the proliferation of empty retail sites and lack of encouragement by local governments have gutted not only St. Paul but most urban centers.
I love my adopted city of St. Paul and have to say I have never felt unsafe downtown, but I wholeheartedly believe the recruitment and patronization of small entrepreneurial retail establishments would go a long way toward a safer and more vibrant downtown.
Sue Zumberge, St. Paul
The writer is the owner of SubText Books.

The renewed call for public safety in the wake of so much gun violence prompts a question to advocates of gun ownership. If the whole rationale behind citizens being armed is “self-defense,” why do we never see those news stories? Why instead, when I open the Minnesota section of the paper today, did I see the story of shots fired at the Willow Creek movie theater, three separate shootings within 40 minutes in Minneapolis that left seven people wounded, a conviction for a husband who shot his wife to death, a first-degree murder charge filed against a road-rage shooter, and a man who just died after being shot in his car last month?
Where’s the story about the father who heroically saved his young daughter from a prowler in the middle of the night by shooting them dead? You’ll need to dig deep into the haystack to find that needle.
Let’s not keep pretending that the narrative of gun ownership (in the city, at least) is anything less than a deadly plague. It’s a toxic, fear-based tool to make people feel powerful in a scary world. But come on, do humans make good decisions when they’re afraid? Not so much. So when we discuss guns, let’s ditch the ridiculous part of the narrative that says you’ll become a superhero when you own a gun and acknowledge that, hands down, they’re just really good at ending and ruining lives.
Travis Anderson, Minneapolis

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Once again state Sen. Warren Limmer of Maple Grove reveals in his Star Tribune opinion piece that he values guns over real public safety (“We need common-sense control — of criminals,” Opinion Exchange, Oct. 15). Sen. Limmer makes at least two mistakes in his opinion piece. First of all, gun-rights legislators like to mislead the public into thinking that gun safety advocates want to take away guns or limit gun ownership for responsible adults. This is simply not true but Limmer perpetuates this myth in his piece by saying that “we stand with law-abiding citizens and their right to own a gun for self-defense.” The facts are that gun safety advocates support more safety around gun ownership, not elimination of access. Additionally, Limmer calls Gov. Tim Walz and U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar’s call for background checks and red-flag laws “knee-jerk” reactions that “ignore the reality of the situation.”
Hardly. Actually, Walz and Klobuchar have done their homework. Extensive research shows universal background checks and red-flag laws do in fact save lives. Ironically, on the same day that Limmer’s opinion piece was printed, the gunman who is accused of killing 14 students and three staff members at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., one of the worst school shootings in U.S. history, finally announced he would plead guilty. Had a red-flag law been in place in Florida at that time, the shooter’s guns would have been removed from his possession before he was able to use them, and 17 people would still be alive right now. Three weeks after the shootings Florida passed bipartisan red-flag legislation. In addition to Florida, 18 other states plus D.C. have some form of red-flag laws.
Lastly, Limmer’s flawed logic that laws don’t stop criminals raises the question: Then why have any laws at all?
Lisa Weisman, Minneapolis

As a citizen on the sidelines, neither friend nor family of Winston Smith, I have questions about the “thorough and professional approach” cited by the Department of Public Safety spokesperson (“Family calls for probe in task force killing,” front page, Oct. 16). Yes, it seems investigators and the officers at the scene followed the letter of the law. But the spirit of the law?
Indeed, we as private citizens have the right to “take the Fifth” when testifying as a witness. However, don’t we expect ordinary persons, whether public servants or citizens, to exhibit a reasonable public responsibility: to be of assistance in helping the truth (“the facts”) come out? Though fear and anxiety understandably accompany the prospect of being interviewed after any traumatic incident, would a responsible human being refuse to voluntarily contribute to the furtherance of justice? Or is justice the exclusive right of U.S. marshals who can in this instance be legally shielded from participation in our democratic process?
Frankly, “more than 1,300 photos and approximately 2,000 pages of material” will never make up for the fact that the U.S. Marshals Service has been derelict in its furtherance of public trust, in failing to implement 21st-century law enforcement practice — by not mandating bodycam usage for its officers. The prescribed duty of all law enforcement agencies is to provide care and safety for every member of the public. Why? Because such institutional representation is the necessary foundation for and the source of public trust in governance — in short, necessary for democracy to thrive.
Ask yourself: Is it too much to expect of any public service officer to uphold and attempt to exhibit a modicum of character, to practice empathy and courage in the line of duty? Not because it’s pasted in the books as “legal,” but rather because it’s the humane and right thing to do — such conduct being the ethical core of honorable public service?
Judith Monson, St. Paul

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