MINNEAPOLIS -- Mayor Betsy Hodges on Thursday hosted a national conference on combating youth violence, and fielded questions from the media about a recent spate of shootings in the downtown entertainment district.
"It’s wrong, it’s bad, it should not happen in our city," Hodges told reporters from a podium at the Marriott Hotel, as she stood amid dozens of fellow mayors from across the nation.
"It did happen in our city. And we are doing everything we can to find whatever strategies we can to end that violence."
She said she's working with Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo to map out a plan in the wake of two recent gun fights that resulted in injuries to innocent bystanders.
Other mayors on hand for the Cities United conference came to Hodges' defense, noting that outbreaks of gun violence are not unique to Minneapolis and are the result of many complex factors including increased access to firearms.
"In many of our cities, unfortunately, they are seeing upticks in crime – big cities, medium size and small," former Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter, a Cities United co-founder told reporters.
"I don’t know what drives people to shoot each other. But the idea that somehow, some way magically the mayor is going to stop someone who has intent and has a weapon?"
Mayors helping mayors
The mission of Cities United is to strengthen cities, by helping city leaders trade ideas and learn from the experience of others about what innovations have worked.
The fourth annual convening of the organization in Minneapolis is devoted to finding ways to save young people, especially African American and Native American males, from the epidemic of gun violence.
"The reality is most of these kids involved in this violence have not received love, support, expectations or discipline," Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer explained, pointing out that the underlying conditions that were not created overnight and will take time to solve.
The mayors group takes a wholistic approach, recognizing the importance of access to housing, jobs, mental health services and reforms making it easier for former offenders to reenter communities.
"Our job as a community and a country is to rally around these kids," Fischer added.
Cities United provided the template for the hospital-based Next Step program recently featured on KARE, an initiative at Hennepin County Medical Center.
The idea is to intervene with gunshot victims and their friends in an effort to break the cycle of revenge and retaliation. Only a small percentage of those who've been through the program have returned to the hospital to be treated for new gunshot wounds.
"In that moment of vulnerability to get him -- and usually it's a him -- resources to make different decisions and help his group make different decisions," Hodges explained.
She drew praise from her fellow mayors for reaching out the Cities United in the wake of the officer-involved shooting of Jamar Clark in November of 2015. She worked through Cities United, and law enforcement sources, to develop a handbook to help cities respond to similar fatal encounters.
Taking heat at home
But here at home Hodges is drawing fire from political adversaries over the uptick in violence and other issues.
"The mayor has two primary responsibilities per the city charter; the first is police and safety, and the second one is the budget and neither one of them is going very well," City Council Member Jacob Frey, who is one of Hodges' top challengers in the ongoing 2017 mayoral race.
Hodges has said she'll miss the first deadline for submitting her proposed 2018 city budget, citing two summertime crises that placed huge demands on her schedule.
One was the August 2 explosion at Minnehaha Academy that claimed two lives and injured several others.
The other was the July 15 officer-involved shooting of Justine Damond in southwest Minneapolis. The uproar over the shooting led to the resignation of then-Chief Janee Harteau.
Frey and others took Hodges to task for traveling to California four days after Damond's death, to attend a fundraiser cohosted by Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti.
"If it were me, after our police shot somebody I would not have gotten on a flight and gone to LA," Frey asserted.
Harteau took heat for not returning immediately from a family vacation in Colorado after Officer Mohamed Noor fatally shot Damond.
Hodges gave a detailed response Wednesday on Facebook, saying that she spent most of the time attending to the situation.
"During the 27 total hours that I was traveling, I spent most my time dealing with the aftermath of the terrible shooting of Justine Damond, just as I had almost every moment since the shooting happened," Hodges wrote.
"While traveling, I spoke with neighbors, City Council members, school district officials, and community leaders, including in the East African community."
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