For 14-year-old Yusuf Dayur, hearing news of vulgar comments about Africa uttered by President Trump bothered him enough that he had a tough time focusing on studying for his upcoming chemistry exam.
“Mom, do you know what our president said about Africa?” the ninth-grader from Richfield asked his mother Shukri Abukar.
Yusuf wanted to say something about Trump’s dismissal of Haiti and nations in Africa as “shithole countries.” That was on Jan. 11 and the president’s comments had sparked a wave of shock and outrage around the world.
That day, his mom told Yusuf to focus on his chemistry homework. He had exams to prepare for the following week.
But Yusuf did not want to remain silent.
“How could he say such a thing about Africa when the house he lives in was made by Africans who were enslaved,” he said of the president. “Africa is where people came from. Africa is what America was built on. Africa is the world.”
“I think it was very arrogant and very uneducated of him to say that about African nations,” he said.
If he didn’t respond to the president’s comments, he told his mother, “it will bother me for the rest of my life.”
Two days later, he found some down time after he came back from a weekend Quranic school.
“Hooyo,” he said, using the Somali word for mom, “grab the phone. I’m recording a video.”
‘American stands for liberty’
Trump has since offered a partial public denial, while privately defending his language.
In the two-minute long video that’s received 11,000 Facebook views, Yusuf admonished the president for disparaging black nations.
“I do not think calling other people’s countries s-hole nations, I don’t think that is what America stands for,” Yusuf said. “America stands for liberty and justice for all. America stands for people coming from all over the world to help contribute to our nation’s great success.”
Yusuf had recorded many videos in the past in response to events in the news. His first, in 2015, was a response to then-presidential candidate Ben Carson who had said he doesn’t believe that Islam was consistent with the U.S. Constitution.
He was 12 at the time and said he would prove Carson wrong. In September 2015, he proclaimed that he would be the first Muslim president.
His YouTube channel is called Yusuf Response. The description of the channel says it was “made because of all the injustices and islamophobia facing the Muslim community!”
On it, there’s Yusuf’s “Take on Paris Attacks,” Yusuf on “Sending Thanks to Obama,” “on Donald Trump Banning Muslims,” one that says, “Enough is enough Donald Trump,” and another titled: “I am endorsing Hillary for Prez!”
When Yusuf wants to record a video, he asks his mother to turn on her iPhone camera. His dad then approves the video.
“I never correct anything,” Yusuf’s dad, Hassan Mohamed, said about his son’s video messages. “The first time he makes [a video], I approve it. I never direct him to say something for the video.”
Around 2 p.m. on Jan. 13, Yusuf stood by the door in the top floor of their two-story home in a quiet neighborhood in Richfield. His four siblings played on the ground floor.
“Mr. Trump, your remarks on African nations and Haiti,” he said in his message to the president, trying to look for the right words of what to say next. “… made me quite sad.”
He paused for a few seconds.
“The way you called them s-hole nations and the way you said we should have more immigrants from Norway made you seem inherently racist,” he added.
The 14-year-old, whose intense interest in politics started when he was in preschool, told Trump that he represents what the United States stands for and the values that it promotes and projects to the rest of the world.
“So, Mr. Trump,” he continued, “please let me teach you the great and rich history of Africa and the potential social economic prosperity that Africa can and will have.”
Yusuf’s video message to Carson had propelled him into the public spotlight when MPR News first wrote about it. After the story came out, the aspiring young politician met Gov. Mark Dayton, Attorney General Lori Swanson and other politicians at the state Capitol.
The Minnesota chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations gave him the 2016 Young Champion of Justice and Mutual Understanding award. U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison also mentioned him in an opinion piece in the Washington Post about the progress Muslim Americans have made since Sept. 11, 2001.
Ellison said the Muslim faith inspires future generations and wrote, “Go Yusuf!”
Now at age 14, Yusuf said he understands that ascending to highest office in the land is not a “piece of cake.” But he has also mapped a clear path to achieving that goal.
His immediate plan is to get involved in the student council at Edina High School, where he is transferring next week, and then become council president.
“I want to have a leadership role,” he said. “And if I have a leadership role, then I would be able to go up the ladders of politics.”
He’s considering the University of Minnesota to study criminology, which he thinks will help him when he becomes a lawyer. (“You have to know what criminals do to break the laws,” he readily says when asked he wants to major in criminology.”)
Then he would become the mayor of Richfield, state senator and then Minnesota governor before he runs for president.
“I think to properly run the United States, you must first run a state,” Yusuf said. “That’s what I believe.”
But before he does all that, he said he would have to first convince voters that his East African heritage should not be an issue.
“I have realized there’s a lot of bigotry in the United States,” he said. “So, me being of a Somali heritage, a person of the Islamic faith, it’s going to be tough. But I don’t think anything can stop me. I live in the United States: land of the free, home of the brave.”
When he is not thinking about politics or doing homework, Yusuf plays basketball, football and video games with friends. He also likes to read and watch the news. His bedtime is before 10.
On election night in 2016, though, he stayed up until midnight, glued to the TV as election results trickled in. “That was the first time, actual weekday that I had school that I stayed up past 10,” he said. “It was crazy.”
As he watched, he kept saying: “Wow! How is this possible? What did Donald Trump do that the Democrats did not?”
His dad Mohamed was an election judge that night at a precinct in Richfield. Before he signed up to serve as a judge, Mohamed consulted with Yusuf, who told his dad: “You can do it, man.”
But when Mohamed came home that night to share his experience with his family of serving a judge for the first time, nobody was listening. As a Hillary Clinton supporter, Yusuf was upset the way the election results were going. “He was still up and mad,” Mohamed said.
‘Brave enough’ to run for president
A year after the election, Yusuf is still perplexed at how Trump successfully engineered to win.
“I have seen things that I never thought I would see,” he said. “Donald Trump is now our president. And since he’s our president, it shows that anybody can be president with or without political experience.”
Yusuf said he’s been dismayed by Trump’s travel ban targeting people from six Muslim-majority countries, including Somalia, his parents’ country of origin.
On Trump, Yusuf said the president hasn’t achieved much beyond the passing of a tax overhaul.
“He has really stayed tight knit to his close supporters and he hasn’t really branched out and to speak to the people who are a little bit weary about what he says,” Yusuf said of Trump. “He has room for improvement.”
Why is he interested in politics?
“Politics is the reason why democracy exists, is the reason why fascism existed for the most part, is the reason why communism existed for the most part,” he said. “Politics is what makes the world. If it wasn’t for politics then the United States wouldn’t be as organized as it is today. Politics is what makes America America.”
Yusuf calls himself a “liberal-leaning” person. He says “conservatives are down to earth and they are really family-oriented, but I like how Democrats like to organize and like to protest and like to fight for their civic duties.”
What’s his take on health care?
“We spend the most on health care out of the world’s richest nations,” he quipped. “But we are the most unhealthy. I think that’s a big problem. We should help people who are suffering.”
Lately, he is more focused on school. He said he has less time to follow the twists and turns of the current political events. He wants to excel in school, and then, he said, the rest will fall into place.
His mind is still set on becoming a president.
“If I’m not brave enough to run for office,” Yusuf said, “what does that say about me? So hopefully I can, and hopefully I will.”
When radicalization lured two Somali teenagers … from Norway
Acclaimed Norwegian journalist Åsne Seierstad spent years researching what happened. Now her book, “Two Sisters: Into the Syrian Jihad” is available in the United States.
Seierstad, who discusses her book Monday night at the American Swedish Institute in Minneapolis, said she didn’t go looking for the story.
“The story actually came to me,” she said. “It was the father of the girls who actually wanted the story to be written.”
His name is Sadiq, a Somali man who worked for years to bring his family to Norway. He hoped for a better life. He thought things were going well, then everything collapsed when Ayan and Leila disappeared.
When the girls left home, their parents were in shock, Seierstad said. “They hadn’t understood what was this about. Why? And then as months went by and they got to learn more about radicalization, they realized that all the signs had been there. That the girls were like a textbook case of radicalization. And he [Sadiq] wanted the book to be written to warn others, to tell this story to warn other parents.”
It is a perplexing story. Ayan and Leila were bright, and opinionated. They didn’t put up with being pushed around.
“And that is somehow part of why they left, in their logic,” said Seierstad, adding that the girls were convinced Syria and ISIS offered a chance of eternal life.
“They believed that life here and now is not real life. Real life happens after death. And this life is only important as a test. So the better your score, the better you behave in this life, the better position you will have in heaven for eternity. So isn’t that better?”
Seierstad is known for her in-depth reporting. Her book “One of Us,” about Anders Breivik, the gunman who killed 77 people in Norway’s worst terror attack, is an international best-seller.
When published in Norway Seierstad said, “Two Sisters” became the top-selling book for two years running. What pleases her most is the breadth of her readership. She gets email from young Somali girls, and also from government officials who want to prevent future radicalization.
Ilhan Omar documentary among Minnesota projects headed to New York’s Tribeca Film Festival
STAR TRIBUNE — Robert De Niro’s Tribeca Film Festival will have more than a touch of Minnesota this year. Two projects shot largely in the state will be part of the event that runs from April 18-29 in New York City.
“A Time for Ilhan,” by documentary filmmaker Norah Shapiro, chronicles Ilhan Omar’s successful bid to win election to the Minnesota House of Representatives, making her the first Somali-American, Muslim woman to hold state office in the United States.
In addition, Rosemount native Naomi Ko will be shopping a pilot for a potential series. “Nice,” which was mostly shot in the Twin Cities, stars Ko as a young Korean-American woman who faces a crisis when she’s diagnosed with cancer. Ko, who appeared in the 2014 indie hit “Dear White People,” is hoping screenings at the festival will attract a streaming service or network that will green-light an entire season.
The festival, now in its 17th year, will also feature new documentaries about Gilda Radner and the New York Times, as well as high-profile feature films, including the sci-fi romance “Zoe,” starring Ewan McGregor, last seen showing off his Midwest accent in “Fargo.”
After charges in Justine Damond killing, racial dynamic remains a focal point
STAR TRIBUNE — To some, the question loomed large as a former Minneapolis police officer was charged in the killing of an unarmed woman: Would the charges — the first in a case involving a fatal shooting by police in recent Hennepin County history — have come if the officer hadn’t been black and Somali-American and the victim hadn’t been white?
An intense debate over the shooting’s uncommon racial dynamic has played out among police reform activists, in the city’s Somali malls and among the police department’s own officers. Even some passionate proponents of police accountability balked at celebrating the murder and manslaughter charges against Officer Mohamed Noor, saying they reflected the justice system’s racial bias as much as previous local decisions not to charge cops who kill in the line of duty. Some Somali-Americans worried their community, rather than the use of deadly force by an officer, will end up on trial.
But others said the charges are a clear win in the push for more scrutiny of police use of force and possibly the beginning of a tougher approach to law enforcement accountability. Noor shot Justine Ruszczyk Damond, a 40-year-old Australian spiritual healer and meditation coach, minutes after she called police to report a suspected sexual assault in her southwest Minneapolis neighborhood.
“There have been numerous shootings that the community felt were unjustified and this one with Ms. Damond is one of them,” said Nathaniel Khaliq, past president of the St. Paul NAACP. “I hope it lowers the threshold for officers to be charged in deadly shootings.”
Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman announced the charges Tuesday, more than eight months after Damond’s killing and nearly two years to the day after he declined to charge two white officers in the fatal shooting of an unarmed black man, Jamar Clark. Damond’s family welcomed the charges, calling them “one step toward justice for this iniquitous act.”
Criticism of the charges
On the question of the Noor charges at Remix Barber and Beauty shop in Minneapolis Friday morning, the predominantly black clientele was in near-agreement: After years of pressure for more accountability in fatal officer shootings, a black cop had been made the fall guy. Customers and co-owner Chanda Tolbert said the charges came as no surprise given the races of the officer and the woman who was shot.
“Race has everything to do with it,” customer Teena Hill said. “It’s not a justice system for us.”
Reaction at nearby Jones and Jones Barber Shop, only a block from the site of Clark’s shooting in 2015, echoed that sentiment. “If it was a white police officer shooting a black man, he wouldn’t have been charged,” said Rob Hannah as he waited to get a haircut. “The system fails us a lot.”
Added owner A.J. Turner, “The Somali community needs to be in an uproar. I would be.”
Talk about race and perceived racial bias has lit up Somali community members’ social media accounts, animated coffee shop conversations and brought a couple of emotional impromptu community meetings in the days following the charges. Some have questioned whether Noor was treated differently from other cops who have killed in the line of duty, alleging a rush to judgment absent after other police shootings.
“A lot of the community is saying that if it’s Michael or David, he’s not going to be guilty today,” said Mahamed Cali, who runs KALY 101.7 FM, a Somali-American radio station.
After months of silence, the Somali American Police Association (SAPA) last week criticized the charges, suggesting Freeman had bowed to political pressure ahead of his re-election bid later this year. In an interview, Waheid Siraach, acting spokesman for SAPA, said the case raises legitimate questions about racial bias.
He pointed to former Police Chief Janeé Harteau’s news conference several days after the shooting in which she condemned Noor’s actions before an investigation had been completed. He also noted a cellphone video of Freeman criticizing the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension for its handling of the case and telling activists in a taped conversation that to make a charging decision would be “the big present I’d like to see under the Christmas tree.”
“The aggressiveness, the ruthlessness with which Freeman went after this case, and personally Noor, it’s completely different from how they went after other cases,” Siraach said.
Privately, some Somali-American officers complained they were called in to testify before the grand jury simply because of their ethnicity. They spoke about several racially charged incidents in the department in the aftermath of Damond’s shooting, including disparaging comments about Somalis made by a white sergeant on Facebook, which were investigated last month.
Officers and community activists such as Omar Jamal also criticized Noor’s Tuesday firing, which they said sends a strong message to potential jurors. Meanwhile, the Minneapolis Police Federation, usually an outspoken advocate of officers accused of wrongdoing, remained largely silent about the Noor matter for months.
Some in the Somali community worry about a broader backlash, noting feverish speculation in some corners of the internet and elsewhere that Noor’s religion and ethnicity motivated the shooting. Former Republican U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann called Noor an “affirmative-action hire by the hijab-wearing mayor of Minneapolis, Betsy Hodges,” and insinuated that Noor may have shot Damond for “cultural” reasons.
Others decried the case as a possible setback in law enforcement efforts to engage with the East African community and recruit officers from its ranks, an initiative that has received international recognition.
“A lot of young people wanted to be a police officer, but they’re rethinking it now,” said Cali, citing his own son as an example. “A lot of young people are saying, ‘Oh, I don’t want to be [the next] Mohamed.’ ”
Some prominent black police reform advocates are speaking out in Noor’s defense. Ron Edwards, a longtime civil rights activist in Minneapolis, noted that 11 days before Damond was shot, on-duty New York City police officer Miosotis Familia was shot and killed as she sat in an RV police command vehicle in the Bronx. During roll calls across the country, Edwards said, officers were told to be on the lookout for situations in which they could be ambushed, to “have their weapons prepared.”
“In those tragic few seconds, officers were following their orders,” he said, adding, “Justice was not served, but I wasn’t surprised.”
Support for the charges
But the response to the charges in Twin Cities communities of color is far from uniform. For some, the bottom line is that a police officer is being held accountable in the death of an unarmed civilian. They feel the case has helped broaden the call for police and criminal justice reform — and could serve as a rallying cry for a community still reeling from the 2016 shooting death of St. Paul school cafeteria worker Philando Castile by St. Anthony police officer Jeronimo Yanez. Yanez was acquitted last year on manslaughter charges.
Farhio Khalif, a Somali-American women’s advocate, said she welcomed the charges against Noor as a chance to get to the bottom of what happened the night Damond was killed.
“My solidarity is with the Damond family. Justine has to be given her justice,” she said.
Khalif says that to her, Noor was simply a Minneapolis officer who shot an unarmed woman, and she voiced disappointment that much has been made in the public discourse of his Somali-American background. She said she trusts that the justice system will handle the case without regard to Noor’s race and background.
Some black community advocates also said they are heartened by the charges.
“Just because racist white folks do terrible things to black folks, we don’t have to act like them,” said Mel Reeves, one of the leaders of an unsuccessful campaign pushing Freeman to indict two officers in the Clark shooting. “I don’t support wrong. Clearly, if officer Noor shot Justine Damond, he should be punished.”
All eyes now turn to Noor’s upcoming prosecution. The proliferation of video and other factors have increased pressure on prosecutors around the country to not only charge but convict officers involved in controversial shootings, according to Justin Nix, who has studied police use of force at the University of Nebraska Omaha’s School of Criminology and Criminal Justice. Yet, convictions remain uncommon.
Much remains unknown in the Damond case, which was not captured on video because the officers’ body cameras were turned off at the critical moment. Still, Nix said there appeared to be enough evidence to support charges, regardless of the victim and officer’s race.
“If you separate race from that and you just look at those facts, this is one of those very questionable cases in which charges might be pursued,” he said.
Staff writer Andy Mannix contributed to this report.