To be in America, must it be a rite of passage to be directly impacted by gun violence? We can all recount the cascade of mass shootings since Columbine, if we can even remember all of them. But on September 22, 2008 the news stories of gun violence about which I read and heard and debated and acted upon looked me in the eye.
As I walked out of the door of the Mixed Blood Theatre that I have exited since 1976, a 20-year old Augsburg student lay dead in the street at the end of our driveway, having been shot in the head at point blank range.
Ahmed Nur Ahmed Ali was a soccer player whose work study was tutoring young students at the Brian Coyle Community Center, which sits across 15th Avenue from Mixed Blood. He had asked a 15 year old to wait for the little ones to finish in the gym before playing basketball. That 15 year old ambushed Ahmed as he left the building.
15th Avenue South became a crowd scene. Ahmed’s body lay uncovered for hours as police gathered evidence. Hundreds of people, including family, were kept from getting close to him for tears or prayers. It was Ramadan.
I couldn’t leave either and watched, ten yards from a vital, ambitious, caring young man who would know no future. His blood coagulated around him. The police wouldn’t cover him so as not to taint evidence. I had coached one of the officers in Little League baseball 30 years earlier and he kept me informed, but I have been forever moved by that son/brother/friend whose life ended in the place I have spent my adult life.
While this act fulfilled a larger metropolitan impression of Cedar Riverside, police data revealed that we live in the second safest neighborhood in Minneapolis, safer than Linden Hills and Kenwood at the time. Nonetheless, City and community leaders leapt into action and eradicated the area of abandoned blighted buildings, removed public berms behind which criminal activity could take place, and punctuated the safety of our blocks, blocks on which over 5000 people reside.
The face of that young man – Ahmed Nur Ahmed Ali – shines in my mind’s eye each time a new report of unnecessary gun violence flows through the airwaves. It made it personal.
It feels like just a matter of time before it’s personal for every American. As crowds chant “Do something!” we at Mixed Blood vow to do just that.