‘We can’t take it anymore’: Minneapolis principal says city feels out of control after student’s death

    North High School Principal Mauri Melander Friestleben broadcast a Facebook Live video on Sept. 15 after a 17-year-old Minneapolis Public Schools student was shot and killed the day before.

    North High School Principal Mauri Melander Friestleben stood on the corner of N. Dowling and N. Fremont avenues Tuesday, a day after a 17-year-old Minneapolis Public Schools student was shot and killed there, and said she was “100% over it.

    “We literally are in a city right now that is completely and entirely out of control. I just have to absolutely say it the way I feel it,” Friestleben said on a Facebook Live video broadcast from the North High School account. “It feels like when I walk into a classroom where the teacher has given up.”

    Friestleben — who was principal of Lucy Laney Elementary School until last year and credited with boosting achievement at the north Minneapolis school — and dozens of other Minneapolis Public Schools principals gathered at the intersection Tuesday in a show of solidarity after the teenager’s death. The informal assembly took place just a week after the district’s first day of school, when students and staff resumed distance learning.

    Minneapolis has seen a spike in gun violence and other violent crimes since the spring. So far this year, 382 people have been shot — the most in 15 years — and 59 homicides have been recorded. Meanwhile, the Minneapolis Police Department’s 911 call response times have slowed, and their approach to crime is less proactive, city records show.

    In the Facebook Live video, Friestleben shared frustrations that her students can’t return to school while they see people in the community “doing whatever they want … and law enforcement drives right past.”

    “I have kids that so badly and so deeply want to be in school, they want to play their sports, they want to get in the weight room … and guess what? Because of covid, they can’t do anything,” she said. “We’re seeing blocks being taken over. People with substance abuse problems, chemical dependency issues, and they are just allowed to be how they want to be but my kids can’t work out? It doesn’t make any sense, and the kids know it doesn’t make any sense.”

    Police aren’t enforcing laws in her community, Friestleben said. She said she doesn’t see officers patrolling anymore, and they don’t step in when people drive through red lights and speed. Officers say that residents and city council members don’t want them around, she said, but people in her neighborhood do.

    “The people who are in my community need and want good law enforcement,” she said. “We got kids on skateboards that are getting hit by cars, and nothing … We can’t take it anymore.”

    Minneapolis city council members — who pledged in June to “begin the process of ending the Minneapolis Police Department” — pressed Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo in a meeting later that day for answers about how the department is addressing the rising violence.

    Several council members said their constituents have been told by police officers that there aren’t enough staff to respond to every call, and some wondered if officers were trying to drum up support for more staff or acting in opposition to the City Council. Arradondo said police are working to address gunfire, especially in North Minneapolis, and that he would follow up on concerns about the department’s responsiveness.

    Friestleben closed her video Tuesday with a message to students.

    “If you don’t see this video later, it’s probably because I said too much. But you know that I love you, you know that we love you, you know that we are fighting, we are out here for you,” she said. “Be safe. We know that this feels wrong, we know that the world feels topsy turvy right now, and we’re not going to be quiet about it.”

    Friestleben didn’t immediately respond to an interview request.

    Rilyn Eischens
    Rilyn Eischens is a data reporter with the Reformer. Rilyn is a Minnesota native and has worked in newsrooms in the Twin Cities, Iowa, Texas and most recently Virginia, where she covered education for The Staunton News Leader. She's an alumna of the Dow Jones News Fund data journalism program and the Minnesota Daily. When Rilyn isn't in the newsroom, she likes to read, add to her plant collection and try new recipes.