BY DEVIN HOGAN
The CRUNCH was so massive it shook the earth. I was tooling around in the back yard when I heard squealing tires, followed by that visceral blow of what sounded like a car accident.
I ran around to the front of the house, and, to my surprise, found a man in a power wheelchair – my neighbor – fully tipped over on his side. The crunch was from his chair falling over. It had run off the sidewalk and landed against a freshly planted boulevard tree. The wheels were still spinning.
I asked if he needed anything and he had me turn off the chair and brush away the ants that had begun crawling over his arm, neck and face. A neighbor who was with him, a woman on the sidewalk in a power wheelchair, offered to dial 911.
As a white masculine cis-passing person, the most agreeable outcome I could imagine was to file a police report and answer questions I did not feel like answering. I offered to round up a few neighbors to lift the man and the extremely heavy chair onto the sidewalk and they both concurred.
I crossed the street to knock on the door of the matriarch of the multigenerational Mexican family I had just spent my birthday with. I explained the situation to her in my broken Spanish, she took a look from the front porch and said she would send over her sobrino (nephew). I then knocked at my next-door neighbor’s and asked the person I was meeting for the first time at the door for some immediate physical and emotional help and they promptly agreed.
Waiting for the additional neighbors to come outside, I went over to the woman on the sidewalk to see if anyone from the supportive housing designed for people in power wheelchairs where they both lived could help. No, she said. Nobody on duty. Not enough staff.
This brought to mind all kinds of broken systems and infrastructure leading up to where we were. Basic care, jobs, housing and sidewalks, the simplest and most vital public space that forms the capillaries of our cities.
This particular stretch of sidewalk is white and crescent-shaped, a cutout poured around what was probably the enormous, bulging roots of an original elm tree narrowing the right of way, now gone. It’s not brand new, but still the shiniest on the block.
The nephew across the street was the first to arrive. He looked at the situation and said, I don’t know man. They’re going to see this and ask how it got this way. They’re going to ask questions like why are YOU here?
I understood the skepticism but couldn’t register why he was so upset. We were all basically agreeing to possibly injure ourselves in order to avoid risking an interaction with armed police.
The next-door neighbor showed up. I recommended we at least give it one good try, and we did. After situating ourselves to lift, it became immediately clear that the massive weight of such an incredible machine would not budge. So I called 911.
It is important to note that our 911 is an elite, award-winning public service to be proud of as Minneapolis residents. Besides the department’s quiet, steady work behind the scenes, it is also evidenced by their actions during George Floyd’s murder and subsequently at Derek Chauvin’s trial.
911 was prompt and professional, answering in under three rings. I was asked of the emergency, location, if an ambulance was necessary (no), and race of the person in the incident. Just after 10 minutes a full-length ladder firetruck arrived at the end of the block. I waved them over to come up the street and four firefighters got out.
I noticed the nephew neighbor across the street was watching with hope and interest but out of obvious sight. It became clearer to me why he had been so upset earlier.
It took all the might of four firefighters to lift and right my neighbor and his power wheelchair fully onto the sidewalk. There were some scary moments as it still spun around and swerved. Once things settled, the firefighters left and everyone went home.
That was it. Friendly assistance and an exit with no guns and no paperwork. An appropriate response.
911 is a modern miracle. Imagine if every time we called 911 we could feel confident the need would be met with an appropriate response. Yes, sometimes that means armed peace officers (per state law), but for the majority of needs almost anything else might suffice.
A Department of Public Safety with a wider scope and range of tools and trained professionals available can offer this opportunity to Minneapolis. The department would be created and governed in the open through the public hearing and budget process like literally any other city department. It’s not complicated.
Voting yes on Question 2 is a no-brainer. There is nothing crazy or radical about wanting something better for ourselves.
If a Department of Public Safety is good enough for Mankato, Cottage Grove, Lino Lakes, New Brighton, Plymouth, Fridley, Richfield, Woodbury and Maplewood – then it’s good enough for Minneapolis, dammit!