While wider Internet commenting was filled with recriminations and conspiracy, E-Democracyâ€™s Neighbors Forums raised voices against violence by seeking solutions.
On August 4th, 2013, Ray Widstrand, 26, was brutally beaten by a group of young people who had gathered outside to watch a fight between two girls near midnight. Ray was walking through the group of approximately 50 young people when he was randomly attacked, almost beaten to death.
The 5-7 attackers were mostly juveniles and according to the police reports, were affiliated with primarily African-American street gangs. Ray is white. Others in the crowd attempted to mace the attackers and boldly stayed when police arrived to be witnesses to this senseless and extremely random violence. The incident has heightened fears among parents of young African-American males about how they are being viewed by the police and others in their daily lives and the randomness has people of all races in this multi-ethnic neighborhood on edge.
The Payne Phalen neighborhood of Saint Paul has seen its share of violence over the years. Just recently, Vincent Allison, a 17-year-old, was shot to death by another 17-year-old during a gang clash. Large groups of young people have been plaguing the streets of Payne Phalen, blocking traffic, harassing residents, and inciting fear among those who call Payne Phalen home. The police blame Twitter for frequent flash mobs late at night.
After the story on Ray Widstrand hit the press, the 800+ member E-Democracy Payne Phalen Neighbors Forum was buzzing about the assault. Neighbors used the forum as a way to discuss what had happened, to share concerns about the neighborhoodâ€™s ongoing safety, and to exchange ideas on how to stimulate change. This organic exchange was different than what was being presented elsewhere online. From vitriolic online news commenting on regional newspaper websites, to seeing the story used as a foil globally on racially charged websites, even local journalists took notice of the dramatic difference in what the most local people were doing online. There werenâ€™t over the top outcries of panic, blame, or hatred, nor using the story to further some political agenda, but collaborative dialogue among residents searching for answers from within.
Forum posts encouraged people to attend a community meeting held on Thursday, August 15th at Arlington Hills Lutheran Church and offered suggestions on how best to come prepared with questions for the panel. There was a lot of discussion around the lack of activities/opportunities available to neighborhood youth and how to keep these young people off the street. There were even posts from youth speaking out about their neighborhood and what they feel is needed to make change happen. There was also active discussion around increased police presence, continuity surrounding the enforcement of curfew and other applicable laws, and when to call the police when witnessing dangerous behavior.
The key element driving the organic exchange on the Payne Phalen Neighbors Forum was the online neighbor-connecting that had already taken place before the assault occurred. Because these neighbors already had a space built to stimulate dialogue and information sharing, the exchange happening on the forum was more constructive and focused than what was seen elsewhere. Online Neighbor Forums help highly local communities build resiliency – the ability to rebound or spring back from catastrophe. Families experience resiliency in times of crisis, and so do neighborhoods.
E-Democracyâ€™s BeNeighbors.org program connects neighbors online for community-focused interaction. With a focus on low-income, immigrant, and culturally diverse populations, E-Democracy is working to create inclusive online opportunities to spark dialogue, spread community information, and raise voices to take action. The project creatively promotes social belonging and a shared community experience that promotes local problem solving and collaboration of those with common interests – and in the process strengthens neighborhoods by growing their capacity to respond to challenges whether they be crises or opportunities.
The Payne Phalen Neighbors Forum is just one of many neighborhood-level spaces E-Democracy hosts, and we see this same type of exchange and dialogue happening all across the Twin Cities urban core. The Payne Phalen forum is a great example of how our Neighbors Forums and, in general, how providing inclusive online community engagement can have a positive impact on neighborhoods and citizens during times of crisis.
Quotes from the Forum
|Voices of Concernâ€œI am newly graduated teen that lives, breathes, and interacts with all these so called gang members. Sadly I am family members, best friends, childhood friends, etc. with all of these young kids out here and I know a lot of them wouldn’t be doing the things they are doing if they had things to do. I feel the city doesnâ€™t do for the community as they should.â€
â€”Jaysha Jilesâ€œI am a resident of the lower east side and have been concerned for a while now with the escalation of what I am seeing happen in my neighborhood. I cannot wait to both speak about what I see and listen to what some of the solutions might be. I love where I live, I love the diversity and absolutely enjoy this area. I just don’t like feeling scared or having my 8 year old ask me to avoid driving up our street because he doesn’t like to see what is happening on a daily basis. Nobody should live in fear. They sure don’t have this type of environment in more ‘expensive’ neighborhoods, why is it happening here?â€
â€”Danette Allrichâ€œIâ€™m a parent of 5 black boys and I feel we are prisoners in our own home. Iâ€™m scared for them. They stay in the house or on the block, how sad is that. Until we recognize the ills of society and take action, including myself, we are never going to accomplish anything.â€
â€œWe who live here know the area for what it is, good and bad. People from the “outside looking in” just see the bad and the news headlines and know they can go find another area to live in. So it’s a vicious circle. We ALL have an investment in community here with homes, businesses, LIVES – and one that’s not paying off well – we deserve better.â€
|Voices for Changeâ€œWe need to help the police by policing our community. How do you do that? Report anything and everything that you witness that appears to be against the law.â€
â€”Derrick Minorâ€œWe all know we have a problem here, and the police know this too. We want safe streets – the voices in our community who will support this approach are louder and more numerous than those who don’t. This is where “the most livable city” sloganeering hits the road, and we have to demand it all the way to the top if necessary.â€ â€”Luke I.â€œOne thing that is troubling to me is the level of services for youth on the Eastside. With literally half the school age kids all being on the Eastside, we should have, it seems, concentrated in our neighborhood, half the stuff to do for kids. The cops may need to stop problems once they happen, but we also need to look for solutions to prevent the problems.â€ â€”Alec Timmerman
â€œWe must take a deep look and the politics, policies and laws implemented and promoted by these people [district representatives] and ask the tough questions about whether these policies are helping or hurting the community and what trickle down destructive impact they are having.â€Â â€”Shelley Leeson
â€œThere are many spokes in this wheel – political, financial, public safety, personal responsibility to name a few. All should be addressed in a comprehensive way by the immediate community and the City. This will take time and effort. This very unfortunate incident has forced us to actually face the reality of our neighborhood.â€