Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

This has to stop, these shootings July 19, 2017

Positive words posted near a garden in the heart of downtown Faribault. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.


SOMETIMES I COME across an article and accompanying video so profound that I am moved not to tears, but to sobbing.

Often I read those stories in Minnesota Public Radio blogger Bob Collins’ NewsCut column. He rates as one of my favorite writers for his ability to ferret out those stories that touch human emotions. You won’t necessarily see top news stories of the day featured online in NewsCut. But you will read stories that are deeply human, that elicit thought and emotions.

Sometimes Bob makes me laugh. Sometimes cry. Sometimes shake my head. And, almost always, he makes me think. His stories prompt plenty of reader interaction. Whether I agree with comments or not, I always find them interesting.

On Monday Bob published a story and linked to a video in a piece titled A wellness check by police ends with a son dead. The headline grabbed my attention. But it was the video of a grieving father that twisted my gut and made me cry in the deep sort of painful way that heaves your shoulders and unleashes primeval wailing.

In summary, the Massachusetts man’s 26-year-old son, despondent over a break-up with his girlfriend, holed himself up in his room with his dog and a gun. Police were called as was the SWAT Team. The parents were ushered from their home, the father pleading with police to just let his son sleep and to not over-react. I would encourage you to read the entire story and watch the video by clicking here.


I purchased this retro tray at an antique/vintage shop in St. Charles for its simple message. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.


Admittedly, I came to this story with emotions on edge after the police shooting of Justine Damond, 40, in an affluent south Minneapolis neighborhood late Saturday evening. She called 911 to report a suspected assault in an alley by her home, her family says. The death of this Australian woman, who moved to Minnesota several years ago to be nearer her fiance’, has triggered outrage and world-wide attention. And rightly so. The Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension is now investigating the shooting of the unarmed, pajama clad Justine. Few details have been released. The police officer who shot Justine in the abdomen has thus far refused to be interviewed. Justine’s death continues to top the news in Twin Cities media.

Nearly every evening I turn on the 10 o’clock TV news to hear of another shooting in the Twin Cities. A drive-by, a targeted victim, a domestic and, yes, more and more, a fatal shooting by a police officer.

All of this leaves me wondering. Why? Why so much gun violence? Why the increase in fatal shootings by law enforcement officers?


Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2015.


Repeatedly, I hear of the need for more officer training. A recently-passed Minnesota state law requires police officers to receive specialized de-escalation, mental health and implicit bias training beginning in July 2018. In my county, that training is already happening and may have factored into a positive outcome for a 61-year-old local man who last week threatened suicide. He survived his crisis when police responded.

With increased societal awareness and openness, we’re seeing an attitude shift in handling of suicide threats and other mental health related calls to police like the one in Massachusetts. Common sense should tell you not to roll in with an excessive show of force and upset an already struggling individual. Lights, sound, action may work in Hollywood, but not necessarily in reality.


Sidewalk poetry in downtown Northfield, Minnesota, carries a powerful message. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2014.


We can choose to remain calm, to listen to one another, to be compassionate and caring, whether we are a neighbor, a family member, a police officer or a stranger. I know that’s not always easy in a fluid and tense situation.

But something has to change. Too many people are dying due to gun violence in their homes, in alleys, along city streets, on sidewalks…from Minnesota to Massachusetts.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Refuse to remain silent August 26, 2015

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I AM SO TIRED of it. The headlines. Another woman murdered. The court records. Another man charged with domestic assault. The close-up personal experiences that twist my gut.

An edited snipped of a Minnesota Coalition for Battered Women banner.

An edited snippet of a Minnesota Coalition for Battered Women banner photographed during a recent The Clothesline Project display in Owatonna.

Earlier today my heart raced when I heard the raised voices, the “let me go,” watched the young woman pull away from the young man’s grasp.

I hesitated for a moment. And then I was at the front door in a flash, yelling across my busy street, “Hey!” Her head pivoted toward me. “Are you alright?”


“Are you sure?”


Her response seemed genuine.

Yet, I continued to watch as she crossed the street and headed up the hill, barefoot, shoes in hand.

I’ll likely never know her story. But the behavior and words were enough to concern me, to pull me into action, to speak up.

It’s not the first time I’ve refused to remain silent. Twice before I’ve phoned the police when women were being abused. In my neighborhood, in the open, along a busy busy street. Once I should have called 911, but didn’t. I won’t make that mistake again.

It’s been an interesting day, one which started with a “pop” that sounded like gunfire, followed by a second pop around 8 a.m. That got my attention. It is unnerving to look out your window to see police vehicles parked across the street and two policemen standing in a neighbor’s yard. Turns out they had been dispatched to shoot a sick raccoon.

Shooting. A TV reporter and cameraman in Virginia are dead today. Shot while doing a live broadcast. Just doing their jobs.

I am tired of it all. The violence. The craziness. I don’t blame the media for reporting these stories. It is their job to report the news. They don’t make the news. But sometimes they do.

On days like this—when shots are fired in your neighborhood and at Smith Mountain Lake in Virginia—it is easy to feel unsettled and to despair.

But then the opportunity arises to speak up, to yell across the street and ask, “Are you alright?” And you feel the power in your voice, in perhaps making a difference because you chose not to remain silent.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling