Residents march against drugs and violenceNearly 50 people walked down Cloquet Avenue from Veterans Park to City Hall and back with a police escort Saturday morning in a march against drugs and violence, many of them wearing donated black T-shirts with “Lending a Hand While Leaving Footprints” on the front and “Taking Back Our Community” written across the back.
By: Jana Peterson, Pine Journal
Sheila Tormanen came to Saturday’s Walk Against Drugs and Violence because her mother, Trina Langenbrunner, was stabbed to death 12 years ago. Langenbrunner’s alleged killer, Joseph Couture, a neighbor at the time, was only arrested and charged earlier this year.
“So I am against violence 100 percent,” said Tormanen, who brought her own kids – ages 9, 6 and 3– to the 8 a.m. event. “I’m walking for the future of my children. I don’t want them to grow up with drugs and violence. I’m walking … so the community will know there are people who have had enough of [violence and drugs].”
It was the second time that community members have marched recently. A slightly larger group marched up Big Lake Road from Fond du Lac Gas and Grocery to the Tribal Center Oct. 8, a gathering also organized by local resident Bettina Johnsen. The mother of three said she started a Facebook page “Take Back Our Rez” and organized the first walk after learning that law enforcement officials suspected Cristyna Watson, the Floodwood woman whose body was discovered near Reservation Road, was killed by a member of the Native Mob gang.
“We want more people to be involved – it’s a problem for the entire community, not just the reservation,” Johnsen said. “It’s a problem for our entire area: Carlton, Cloquet, Esko, Thomson, Duluth.”
Those sentiments were echoed by many of the nearly 50 people who attended Saturday’s march. Made up of mostly women and children, the group walked down Cloquet Avenue from Veterans Park to City Hall and back with a police escort, many of them wearing donated black T-shirts with “Lending a Hand While Leaving Footprints” on the front and “Taking Back Our Community” written across the back.
“It’s naïve to think that it’s just a problem on the reservation,” Jeanne Szumowski said before the walk. “I wish we could do this together. Not just the Reservation. Not just Cloquet. It’s everybody’s problem.”
It was a fairly quiet walk, most participants walked silently or chatted with companions. No one cheered or chanted any slogans as they made their way through the nearly empty downtown.
“It’s for a good cause,” Kara Halligan said when asked why she came. “I live on the Reservation not far from where she was found. I walk my dog there. It’s unnerving to think that you could be in the wrong place at the wrong time.”
One walker – who declined to share his name – was disappointed there weren’t more people, particularly city and elected officials.
“Where are all the people?” he said. “Where are all the cops? Where is the mayor? Where are all the people that say they’re so scared?”
In a phone interview Tuesday, Cloquet Mayor Bruce Ahlgren said he didn’t attend simply because he didn’t know about the march, otherwise he would have been there.
“It’s something we take seriously,” Ahlgren said. “I know [Cloquet Police Chief] Wade Lamirande has been working with the Fond du Lac police and the Sheriff’s department and there’s a concerted effort to curtail the violence and drugs [by local law enforcement].”
Lamirande was the one local official who attended the march, more as a concerned citizen than someone officially representing the city of Cloquet or area law enforcement.
“I thought it was important enough to spend a couple hours of my Saturday morning here,” said Lamirande, who wasn’t wearing his uniform. “I think we’re all just one community; we all have something at stake. And law enforcement can only do so much. There are only so many officers, only so many resources. And, believe me, we’re tapping into those.”
“I think the communities may have a greater role to play than they have been,” he continued. “Hopefully these walks will create a greater awareness.”
In phone interviews, both Ahlgren – who was Carlton County Court Administrator for 30 years before retiring – and Carlton County Attorney Thom Pertler said the number of felony crimes committed have been climbing for a long time. In fact, Ahlgren said the number of felony crimes rose each year he worked for the county.
“I would say that the overall caseload is trending toward an increase in felonies,” said Pertler, who has charged two people with second-degree homicide for Watson’s murder. “It also seems that more of those [felonies] are related or connected to some illegal gang activity
“There’s no easy answer,” said Ahlgren, pointing out that all local governments have had to trim services as a result of decreased state funding and the recession. “As a community we should be very concerned, I think. We should all work to curb drugs and violence in the community.”
Lamirande talked about educating residents about what to look for, what kind of graffiti means what, what tattoos are gang symbols and more.
“If your 10- or 11-year-old comes home with gang-affiliated colors or signs, then you would know,” he said, affirming that gangs do recruit children that young. “Maybe we can start tackling the problem earlier.”
He mused that people seem to become tolerant of a certain level of illegal activity, noting the graffiti sprayed on public and private property around the area.
“It becomes a new norm,” he said. “If things like this walk can create a new awareness, then I’m all for it.”