Volunteers showed up on May 29 with their own equipment to help clean up University Avenue in St. Paul's Midway after the riots of the night before. Photo by Brad Stauffer

Citizen patrols kept watch at corners and may have prevented more damage

By Jane McClure

The vandalism, arson and looting that wreaked havoc across St. Paul and Minneapolis on May 28 and 29 and shuttered businesses and institutions for several days—and in some cases, perhaps, forever—have given rise to voluntary efforts to keep neighborhoods safe and to support the businesses and organizations that are struggling to recover from the violence. Citizen patrols and virtual watch groups have formed in local neighborhoods. Several were operating already on May 29 and may have prevented additional damage and theft.

Volunteers were patrolling neighborhood streets in the wake of the initial violence and in violation of state-imposed curfews and a county state of emergency. Others kept watch from their yards and porches and checked in through neighborhood Facebook groups.

In Highland Village, a group called Highland Community Fire Defense worked with the Highland Business Association (HBA) to organize one such effort. Its volunteers were stationed at street corners to keep an eye on properties in two-hour shifts on the nights of May 29, May 30 and June 1.

“We wanted to make sure our neighborhood businesses were OK. It was something that needed to be done,” said Highland resident Tom Basgen, who started the group.

Basgen said the intent was not to patrol but to employ peaceful volunteers to serve as eyes and ears on the street. The volunteers were unarmed, wore high-visibility vests and went through training before they took their posts. They were instructed not to confront anybody who looked suspicious.

Basgen said the intent was not to patrol but to employ peaceful volunteers to serve as eyes and ears on the street. The volunteers were unarmed, wore high-visibility vests and went through training before they took their posts. They were instructed not to confront anybody who looked suspicious.

Basgen and interim HBA director James Farnsworth said having volunteers visibly stationed on the streets made a difference and likely kept the damage from getting worse. “We wanted to be sensitive and create a community presence,” Farns­worth said.

The Summit Hill Association and Grand Avenue Business Association worked together on a similar effort to make sure local businesses were secured against the rioting and to remove and recycle the plywood boards that went up over windows once they were no longer needed. The West Seventh/Fort Road Federation organized a cleanup throughout the West End on May 29.

The Midway Chamber of Commerce organized a virtual panel discussion on June 4 to help the owners of damaged businesses find the resources they needed to rebuild and resume operations. The Midway Chamber of Commerce, St. Paul Area Chamber of Commerce and St. Paul Downtown Alliance were setting up a business assistance fund late last week.

The Union Park District Council (UPDC) and Hamline-Midway Coalition (HMC) recently announced that the Community Betterment Fund they have established with help from the Minnesota United FC Major League Soccer team has raised more than $500,000, with more than $400,000 coming in over the course of a single week.

Voluntary cleanup crews were out in force on University Avenue on the morning of May 29 with help from the HMC, UPDC and Frogtown Neighborhood Association. “There have been a lot of ways that people have stepped up to help,” said UPDC board president Henry Parker. Volunteers cleaned up and boarded up local businesses. Others have helped at food distribution sites for the needy at Lexington Parkway and Central Avenue, University and Fairview, Celtic Junction and Bethlehem Lutheran Church-in-the-Midway.

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