By Jeff Wagner
MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Twenty people arrested, 18 of them now charged — all connected to brutal robberies in downtown Minneapolis.
The attacks were caught on surveillance video, taking place in August. Police say groups of people would target one person, assault them, and often to take their cellphone and wallet. The 18 suspects range in age from 15 to 27.
Walking alone is all part of Sneh Bhakta’s commute in downtown Minneapolis.
“It does make me feel singled out because all the time I am alone,” Bhakta said. “And like when I commute at 6 in the morning, I am by myself, at the train station I’m alone.”
His concerns grew upon seeing the disturbing robberies caught on tape, occurring near the places he walks. At about 4 a.m. on August 17, at the intersection of 5th Street and Hennepin Avenue, a man stands by himself while looking down at his phone. Slowly but surely, people approach him to talk. Eventually he is surrounded, beaten and left unconscious — all so the thieves could take his phone and wallet.
A few weeks earlier outside Target Field, another group targets a man who is alone in broad daylight. They attack him, and even ride a bike over his body — all to steal his belongings.
Police said during a three-week stretch in August, 48 robberies were reported in downtown with 23 happening in one week.
From January 1 to August 26 in 2018, police said there were 156 robberies downtown. During that same span in 2019 there were 240 — an increase of 53.8%.
Most of the robberies are taking place along between 3rd and 6th Street, as well as Hennepin and 2nd Avenue. The key time is from 10 p.m. to 3 a.m.
Police said the criminals in the recent cases “finesse” the victim. They search for easy targets, typically someone who is intoxicated, alone, and looking at their phone.
“Many of these juveniles that are affected by this are part of just coming out of incarceration and they don’t have any hope at home, there’s nothing there, and so they come downtown where there’s a little bit of everything and they’re waiting on somebody to prey on,” said V.J. Smith, founder of MAD DADS Minneapolis.
The organization is an outreach group that fills downtown every weekend. They will do everything from break up fights to feed people, but most importantly be the adult figure at-risk youth might be missing in their lives. Many of those arrested for the robberies are juveniles who MAD DADS workers have interacted with.
“These people in the community that are doing this, we have to have some consequences for this, but we also have to get to the heart of it. What’s wrong? What’s your problem? Is it education? Is it mental health? What is it and let’s treat it and let’s fix it,” he said.
After the recent arrests, police said robberies dropped to just three in one week earlier this month. Regardless, Bhakta plans to keep his guard up.
“It’s still challenging to feel, like, safe, because I’m always kind of vigilant about my surroundings, and if something doesn’t happen to me, it might happen to someone else and just being aware of that,” Bhakta said.