by Mark Peterson
Postponed because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the 36th annual National Night Out was held on Tuesday, September 15. Northeast Minneapolis residents took advantage of the pleasant weather and its 13 neighborhoods were well represented. The Minneapolis Police Department’s 2nd Precinct also participated.
At a precinct briefing before the event, Inspector Todd Loining passed out lists of Northeast get-togethers that had requested officer visits, and sites that Crime Prevention Specialists (CPS) had recommended visiting. He was joined by five other officers and members of the Hennepin County Probation office who would be visiting block parties. He asked everyone to try hard to connect with residents, answer their questions, and have a positive attitude. As the officers departed, Loining jumped into a police pickup truck, its bed filled with brightly-colored bicycles, which would be given to a dozen lucky children.
NNO participants in Windom, Audubon and Waite Park neighborhoods put yellow caution tape at the ends of their blocks, freeing up the streets for tables, chairs, neighbors and children on bikes and scooters. Face masks and a subtle change in how much space there was between adults were two of the indicators that this year’s celebration was a bit different. Still, visiting a dozen sites was a fine way to spend a lovely late-summer evening, and chatting with participants revealed some common threads.
Despite the political and public health issues that seem to dominate everyday news, folks at block parties placed the reconnecting with their neighbors as the most important part of the event. One Waite Park resident said the Night Out is one of the few times she sees people on her block relaxing rather than heading to or from work. Most of the parties had one or more couples they welcomed as new neighbors, and several sets of parents proudly showed off their newborns. Participants at most of the sites skewed young (but few teenagers) and late middle-age.
One of the few serious topics mentioned was getting kids back to school, in whatever ways possible. School sports was a concern, and even Halloween got a mention. Members of one party on McKinley Street debated the mechanics of treat delivery at a distance: throw them to the trick-or-treaters or send them down long PVC pipes from the front door to the front sidewalk?
Several parents expressed their gratitude that children got the chance to frolic in the street without danger for one night a year. People young and older celebrated the week-old asphalt paving in front of Jackson Flats with skateboard races.
A dozen people gathered at the Waite Park Community Garden to tour the garden and have an informal NNO of their own. Some of the group discussed how much more they thought about gardening this year, and how well the flowers and vegetables did with the summer’s heat and rain.
In 1981, the National Association of Town Watch (NATW) was founded in Philadelphia; its mission was to provide local crime watch groups with information and resources and keep communities “informed, involved, and motivated.” It seeks to promote police-community partnerships for safer neighborhoods.
NATW introduced the National Night Out (NNO) in August of 1984 through an already established network of law enforcement agencies, neighborhood watch groups, civic groups, and volunteers across the nation. The first annual National Night Out involved 2.5 million neighbors across 400 communities in 23 states. The event is now held in the first week of August in all fifty states, with an estimated 38 million participants in 2019.
Luther Krueger, Crime Prevention Analyst & National Night Out Coordinator based at the Minneapolis Police Department, 2nd Precinct, told the Northeaster, “This was probably the first year that more than a couple city departments worked on NNO in any great detail. Being a celebration of police-community partnerships, naturally we took care of most of the details. But this year with the pandemic, we had much needed support from the Health Department and many conversations with Public Works about how events, which were still allowed but greatly restricted, could happen without our inadvertently setting up super-spreader events. We were able to offer extra masks to block leaders that thought they might need them. But we also sent out suggestions from the Health Department and offered two online Q&A sessions for all registered event organizers.”
National Night Out – no potluck sharing, but conversation basically normal
by Margo Ashmore
It started as the Northeast Alley Cats Coffee Club, with a closed Facebook page that’s operated for at least 10 years, said Lisa Van Zee, who tag-teams with others to “lead” the block of Arthur between St. Anthony Parkway and 30th Avenue NE. The alley is the one between Cleveland and Arthur. Once in spring and once in fall, they would get coffee and treats from 29th and Johnson businesses and meet in a garage. Her garage is full now, and they haven’t done coffee for a while.
It just made sense to make it a block club for National Night Out (NNO) purposes for about these same 10 years. They include the parkway-facing triangular block to the west. One resident has lived in the same house for 28 years, the Van Zees have been there 19 and now have teenagers who attended Northeast Middle School and then Edison High School. Lisa said she’s glad there are couples with younger kids starting to participate.
Asked if there have been crime issues to solve in the past year, Van Zee said no, but mentioned some sporadic incidents.
This year’s NNO party consisted of pre-wrapped snacks and masks that went up as soon as a photographer arrived, social distancing before that.
On the 3600 block of Lincoln, they, too, said there had not been any persistent crime issues to be addressed. “One guy had a break-in but seemed to have handled it himself,” said Amy Andersen, who with her husband Jason has been organizing the NNO event there for about as long as they’ve lived there, four-plus years. The big excitement on the block, the crews that were out installing sod and rain garden plants in the newly re-constructed boulevards until around 6 p.m.
As the crew returned briefly near sundown with a last spray from a watering truck, kids begged for one more marshmallow to toast on the elevated fire pit in the middle of the newly-asphalted street. They usually do a full
pot luck “but this was kinda nice,” Jason quipped, “it’s less hassle for me.”
Below: Police gave away bikes on National Night Out ended up at 36th and Lincoln’s block event. (Photo courtesy MPD) A National Night Out gathering in Audubon Park neighborhood. Along with Jada and Sheila, this little one is representing Audubon Park for his first National Night Out with new neighbors. Enjoying new asphalt in Holland. In Waite Park, Ali and Carlos and their son Carlitos and Josh and Sarah with son Frank along with a group at Waite Park Community Garden. (Photos by Mark Peterson) Six-foot distancing! Lisa Van Zee, at left, is the Alley Cats leader. (Photo by Margo Ashmore)