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Minnesota Republicans fight among themselves about Islam



STAR TRIBUNE — Abdi Mohamed is a Republican Trump voter with a red “Make America Great Again” hat to prove it, and he is a practicing Muslim.

Born in a Kenyan refugee camp, he now considers himself an American patriot: “It’s a beacon the world can look toward as a shining example,” said Mohamed, who caucused with Republicans in February and wants to help the party reach more Muslim-American voters.

The response from a small but vocal group of party activists, candidates and elected officials: No thanks.

Phillip Parrish is a GOP candidate for governor who scored a surprising third-place finish in the February GOP caucus straw poll — despite not having any money or conventional campaign organization — on the strength of urgent warnings about Muslims overrunning Minnesota.

Asked if America’s constitutional democracy and Islam are compatible, Parrish said, “No, absolutely not.”

Parrish and Republican elected officials like state Reps. Cindy Pugh and Kathy Lohmer are speaking to the strongly held beliefs of a slice of the party. But the charged rhetoric — like a Facebook item that both Pugh and Lohmer posted warning Republicans about Muslim-Americans “infiltrating” their caucuses — threatens to further alienate Muslim-Americans, a fast growing demographic that is already trending DFL.

Perhaps even more threatening to the party’s electoral prospects, the message that Muslims are not welcome in Minnesota also risks alienating non-Muslims, especially young voters and the kinds of educated suburbanites whose social views have grown increasingly tolerant in recent years. That’s evidenced by the rapid changes on social issues like same-sex marriage and their ambivalence toward President Donald Trump in the 2016 election.

In an election year featuring a wide open governor’s race, two U.S. Senate elections and four U.S. House contests that could determine who controls Congress, party leaders are not eager for a divisive debate about Islam.
“The Republican Party is an open, welcoming and inclusive party,” said state GOP Chairwoman Jennifer Carnahan, who was adopted by her parents from South Korea and has tried to emphasize an optimistic, forward-looking message. “We want to welcome new people who share our values and are energized to elect Republicans.”

The message conveyed to Republicans on caucus night, however, was much more mixed.

Any caucus attendee can offer a resolution, and one that appeared at some caucus sites called on the party to “minimize and eliminate the influence of Islam within the Republican Party” and prohibiting any Islamic leader from giving the invocation at a party convention or event.

In a Facebook comment, Pugh, a Chanhassen Republican elected to the House in 2012, celebrated the resolution and others dealing with Muslim-Americans: “GOOD NEWS! All four, rock-solid resolutions introduced in my precinct caucus passed ‘with flying colors’! … almost unanimous. Caucus attendees were SO supportive & appreciative of these well-written resolutions. GREAT JOB! {thank you!}”

Pugh declined an interview request, as did Lohmer, a Stillwater Republican elected in 2010.

The resolutions will be taken up at the GOP state convention only if they are passed at congressional district conventions in the spring.

One resolution, written by activist Jeffrey Baumann, states that “Islam eschews man-made law such as the Constitution of the United States.” It continues: “Muslim leaders, religious or otherwise, must definitionally be advocates of Islamic law and opponents of man-made Constitutional law.”

In an interview, Baumann said that “when Muslims become sufficiently numerous, they begin to assert political force.” The result, he said, is a “crisis that could take many forms. It could involve warfare and bloodshed and death.”

In a letter distributed to caucusgoers, Parrish accused refugees — without naming them directly — of “extortion, exploitation and manipulation” while calling them “violent, abusive and ill-intended.”

In an interview, Parrish said he has gained expertise through military operations abroad.

“We’ve had hundreds of honor killings in Minnesota,” Parrish said, referring to a murder, usually of a woman, who has brought dishonor to a family. Such killings are usually associated with Islamic regions of the world.

Chuck Laszewski, a spokesman for the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office, called the claim “poppycock.”

There were 100 homicides total in all of Minnesota in 2016.

Setting aside Parrish’s claim, the spate of violence by perpetrators claiming they were acting in the name of Islam has had a transformative effect on the politics of some Minnesotans.

During a rally at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport before his election, Trump castigated the refugee resettlement program to the approval of the huge crowd and called the Somali resettlement a “disaster.”

Minnesota has in recent years seen two mall knife attacks in which the assailants said they were acting on behalf of Islam. A woman who is alleged to have lit fires at St. Catherine University in February also stands accused of trying to join Al-Qaida. Chief U.S. District Judge John Tunheim said recently there had been a total of 15 Al-Shabab and 15 ISIS-related prosecutions, the highest number of terrorism-related cases of any district in the nation.

Minnesota’s demographics have also undergone significant change: The state’s foreign-born population has risen rapidly in the past two decades, with about one in 12 born outside the United States, including 50,000 from Somalia and Ethiopia.

Natana J. DeLong-Bas, a scholar of Islam at Boston College and co-author of the new book “Shariah: What Everyone Needs to Know,” said there’s considerable confusion and misinformation about Islam. The word sharia, for instance, while often portrayed as Islamic law, actually means “broad values or objectives” rather than laws, she said.

“These values and objectives are protection of life, property, family, religion, intellect and the environment, pursuit of the common good, collective security, fair practice in the marketplace, and the provision of justice,” Delong-Bas said. Islamic law, on the other hand, is the subject of human rather than divine reasoning, and therefore subject to change, she said.

Delong-Bas rejected the notion that a Muslim cannot be an American: “Following sharia is perfectly compatible with upholding and defending the U.S. Constitution, as any Muslim who has ever taken the oath of office or served in the military has shown through example.”

Faisal Deri, a Muslim Republican who owns a risk management consulting firm and lives in Edina, said the entire discussion is a sideshow.

“Every party has some sort of fringe element that has certain views that do not work for all. This party is a big tent,” he said, nodding to a metaphor famously used by President Ronald Reagan. “Are the people in the tent going to agree on everything? That’s impossible.”

On the issues that matter, Deri said, the Republican Party is with him: support for small business, lower taxes and less regulation.

Mohamed, the young man with the MAGA hat, said he won’t be deterred by those in the party who don’t want him.

“I became a delegate almost out of spite,” he said of the recent caucus, where he was elected to be a delegate at the Senate district convention.

“To infringe on my rights? That’s the real threat.”

J. Patrick Coolican • 651-925-5042


Minneapolis police officer Mohamed Noor makes first court appearance; leaves jail after posting $400,000 bond



STAR TRIBUNE — The former Minneapolis police officer charged with murder and manslaughter in the July shooting death of Justine Ruszczyk Damond made his first court appearance Wednesday, where his bail was set at $400,000.

During the hearing, Mohamed Noor said his first public words since the incident in south Minneapolis, spelling his name and confirming his address to Judge Kathryn Quaintance. Noor, slight and soft-spoken, said nothing else during the 15-minute hearing at the Public Safety Facility in downtown Minneapolis.

Quaintance set his bail at $400,000 on the condition that he turn over his passport, surrender his firearms and ammunition and refrain from contacting his former partner Matthew Harrity, the lone witness in the racially charged case that drew international outrage and led to the ouster of former police Chief Janeé Harteau. Bail without conditions was set at $500,000. Noor paid the $400,000 conditional bond and left the Hennepin County jail late Wednesday in the company of his attorney.
Police union officials said that Noor was fired from the department on Tuesday.

Throughout the hearing Wednesday, Noor stood behind a glass partition in an orange jail jumpsuit, wearing a solemn expression. He barely turned to face the packed courtroom gallery, never making eye contact with a group of relatives and friends seated in the front row. Several dozen other supporters huddled in the hallway outside the courtroom.

Noor, 32, turned himself in on Tuesday morning, a day after authorities issued a sealed warrant for his arrest. He is charged with firing his gun from inside his police SUV and hitting Damond, who had called 911 to report a suspected assault in the alley behind her Fulton neighborhood home. Her death provoked protests and became a symbol, in Minneapolis and her native Australia, of how police shootings affect all communities. It also led to Harteau’s firing by then-Mayor Betsy Hodges.

Noor maintained his silence, choosing not to speak to state investigators or the grand jury investigating Damond’s death. The grand jury concluded its probe Monday, the day before Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman announced his charging decision.

Assistant Hennepin County Attorney Amy Sweasy argued that Noor’s bail should be substantial, saying that he posed a flight risk, and that her office had developed “credible evidence” last fall that Noor had left the country.

The report proved false, but she said prosecutors grew more worried after hearing from a witness who claimed that he had “offered to hide [Noor] out.”

“These are the witness’ words, not mine,” she said.

Noor’s attorney, Thomas Plunkett, said in court that the charges against his client were baseless, while calling the initial $500,000 bail “frankly, outrageous.”

He pointed out that Noor had submitted his DNA to the state Bureau of Criminal Apprehension in June for testing, and later voluntarily went to City Hall to meet with an investigator after rumors surfaced that he had left the country.

Plunkett said that Noor posed no risk of fleeing, adding that the former officer came to Minnesota at the age of 5, escaping a civil war in his native Somalia, and had never known another home.

“He has no connection to any other place,” said Plunkett, after waiving a reading of the charges. “Your Honor, Mr. Noor is an American.”

After hearing from both sides, Quaintance offered the conditional bail and set Noor’s next court date for May 8.

“Officer Noor, like any other person charged with a crime in America, is presumed innocent until proven guilty,” Quaintance said. “If he has a trial, it will be in a court of law, not in the media or in the streets.”

Defense attorney Ryan Pacyga said that he was surprised by the prosecution’s high bail request, particularly considering that Noor voluntarily turned himself in and has ties to the community.

He also scoffed at the prosecution’s depiction of Noor as a danger to the public, pointing out that his alleged crime was committed in the course of his duties as a police officer — a profession that is authorized to use deadly force if lives are in imminent danger. “The point is that we’re not talking about some madman, even under the government’s version of this case, that poses some particular danger to the community out there,” Pacyga said.

Jeronimo Yanez, the only other Minnesota officer in recent history charged in an on-duty shooting, was released on his own recognizance. A jury last summer cleared Yanez of any criminal wrongdoing in the shooting death of Philando Castile during a traffic stop in Falcon Heights.

About a month after that verdict, Damond was killed in Minneapolis.

Messages left for Noor’s father went unreturned on Wednesday.

The Somali-American Police Association broke its monthslong silence on Wednesday, saying in a statement that it was “saddened” by what it called politically and possibly racially motivated charges.

We believe Freeman is more interested in furthering his political agenda than he is in the facts surrounding this case,” the statement read. “The charges brought against Officer Noor are not intended to serve justice; rather, they are meant to make an ‘example’ of him.”

An MPD spokeswoman on Wednesday confirmed that an internal probe into the incident was ongoing, but otherwise declined to comment.

Lt. Bob Kroll said claims that Noor plotted to leave the country were news to him.

“He was on administrative leave so he had daily check-ins with [Internal Affairs], I believe,” said Kroll, president of the Minneapolis Police Federation, the union that represents the department’s roughly 880 sworn police officers.

He said they will likely file a grievance on Noor’s behalf to challenge the firing, which is standard practice in disciplinary cases. He said that he wasn’t entirely surprised by the department’s decision to fire Noor, who had been on paid administrative leave since the shooting. “I understand when you’ve got a person facing those charges, there’s a lot of pressure for the administration to get that person off the table, given the public outcry,” he said.

The union has come under fire from critics from both within the department and outside its ranks for not publicly defending Noor.

Noor, who joined the department three years ago, is named in a brutality lawsuit wending its way through federal court. Earlier this month, a judge in that case ruled that an attorney for the woman suing Noor along with another Minneapolis cop and the department was not allowed to ask questions about the Damond shooting.

Staff writers Elizabeth Sawyer and Faiza Mahamud contributed to this report.

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Resettlement of Somalis in Minnesota plummets in wake of Trump policies



MINNPOST — Micaela Schuneman and Ben Walen both lead refugee resettlement efforts at separate nonprofit organizations in the Twin Cities. And both have recently noticed a similar trend in their line of work: a substantial decline in the number of Somali refugee admissions.
“Last year, for my office, we had resettled 99 Somali refugees during [the first half of] our fiscal year, which started on October 1st,” said Schuneman, who’s director of refugee services at the International Institute of Minnesota. “This year, we’ve resettled 13.”

Walen, the director of refugee services at the Minnesota Council of Churches, has seen a similar pattern. In the last several years, Somalis accounted for 40 to 50 percent of the organization’s overall refugee resettlement caseload. This year, however, “we’re down to below 20 percent,” he said.

That’s a big shift from the number of Somali refugees the state has resettled in previous years. From 2014-2017 nearly 4,000 refugees from Somalia were resettled in Minnesota, which represented the single largest group of new arrivals brought here each year.

That’s not a big surprise. The administration of President Donald Trump has reduced overall refugee arrivals since it came into office in 2017. Yet the primary cause is the administration’s increased scrutiny of refugees from predominantly Muslim countries, said Schuneman and Walen.

Last year, President Trump signed an executive order seeking to temporarily suspend all refugee admissions for 120 days. Despite multiple legal challenges, the moratorium went into effect in June. When the suspension expired in October, the resettlement programs reopened their services to new arrivals — except for those from Somalia, Iran, Iraq, Libya, Mali, North Korea, South Sudan, Sudan, Syria and Yemen. The U.S. government designated those nations as “high-risk,” imposing another 90-day ban to implement tighter security measures. That 90-day suspension ended in January, “but we have not seen Somali arrivals really pick up since,” said Schuneman.

Reports from the Minnesota Department of Human Services (DHS) confirm those observations. Although March marks halfway through the federal government’s fiscal year, only 57 refugees from Somalia have so far been resettled statewide. During the same period last year, that number exceeded 650.

That makes Karen refugees from Burma the largest group so far admitted in Minnesota. Statewide, a little over 240 refugees have been resettled during the current federal fiscal year. They include 60 people from Burma, 30 from Congo and 38 from Ethiopia. “People coming out of Burma are about 45 percent of our arrival so far this year,” Walen said. “Our next larger group is people from Somalia, 16 percent total.”

In addition to the seven-month ban on most Somali immigration, stricter security measures imposed on Somali immigrants — which the government says would prevent potential terrorists from coming to America — was still another factor in the reduction.

“Much of who will be resettled to the United States — and who we welcome to Minnesota through the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program — is dependent on overseas screening and vetting process carried out by the U.S. Department of State in coordination with many other federal agencies,” DHS told MinnPost in an email. “These processes lead to final approval and ultimately travel to the United States. The current administration has been reviewing and updating existing processes, which has led to a dramatic slowing of arrivals to the United States.”

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Mpls. officer charged with murder in Justine Damond case



KARE 11 — MINNEAPOLIS – Minneapolis Police Officer Mohamed Noor turned himself in to authorities Tuesday after a warrant was issued for his arrest in connection with the death of Justine Damond.

Noor’s attorney Thomas Plunkett confirms the officer is currently in custody, and the Hennepin County Jail roster lists the charges against Noor as third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter.

According to the warrant that spells out the charges against Noor:

“There’s no evidence that, in that short timeframe, Officer Noor encountered, appreciated, investigated or confirmed a threat that justified the decision to use deadly force. Instead, Officer Noor recklessly and intentionally fired his handgun from the passenger seat. A location at which he would have been less able than Officer (Matthew) Harrity to see and hear events on the other side of the squad car.”
The warrant goes on to say that Harrity did pull out his gun, but held it to his side and didn’t fire. Statements from Harrity say both he, and Officer Noor, felt a threat.

Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman has scheduled a news conference Tuesday afternoon in the Grand Jury Room of the courthouse to discuss his charging decision. KARE 11 will have multiple crews there and plans to carry the proceedings live. A community action group called “Justice for Justine” has announced it will hold a rally tonight at 6:30 p.m. at the intersection of 50th and Washburn Avenue South.

Damond’s family said in a written statement that they’re pleased that Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman decided to bring charges. They say they hope a strong case will be presented and Noor will be convicted.
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Their statement says justice “demands accountability for those responsible for recklessly killing the fellow citizens they are sworn to protect.”
“Justine’s family in Australia and the US applaud today’s decision to criminally charge Officer Noor with Justine’s murder as one step toward justice for this iniquitous act,” reads the full family statement. “While we waited over eight months to come to this point, we are pleased with the way a grand jury and County Attorney Mike Freeman appear to have been diligent and thorough in investigating and ultimately determining that these charges are justified. We remain hopeful that a strong case will be presented by the prosecutor, backed by verified and detailed forensic evidence, and that this will lead to a conviction. No charges can bring our Justine back. However, justice demands accountability for those responsible for recklessly killing the fellow citizens they are sworn to protect, and today’s actions reflect that.”

Noor fatally shot Damond on July 15, 2017 while responding to her call of a possible sexual assault in progress.

According to the warrant, Officer Harrity told investigators that he heard a noise that startled him and Officer Noor. Harrity said he perceived that his life was in danger and unholstered his gun, holding it to his rib cage, pointing it downward. He told investigators Damond approached their squad car from the rear driver’s side then saw Officer Noor with his right arm extended. Harrity looked out the window and saw a woman, later identified as Damond, put her hands on a gunshot wound on the left side of her abdomen and say, “I’m dying” or “I’m dead,” the warrant states.

She was pronounced dead on the scene.

The death of the popular neighborhood organizer and activist triggered anger and action across the community, eventually leading to the resignation of Minneapolis Police Chief Janee Harteau. On Tuesday, Harteau posted a statement on Twitter regarding the charges against Noor.

“Justine Damond’s family deserves answers and they deserve justice. As I originally stated Justine didn’t have to die,” Harteau tweeted. “This tragedy was the result of the actions of one officer, of which we still don’t know why. I ask people to continue to support the officers that provide selfless and honorable service every day to the citizens of Minneapolis.”

While Officer Harrity cooperated with BCA investigators in the wake of Damond’s death, Noor refused to share his side of the story, and was not compelled to by law.

In September, the BCA turned its investigation over to Freeman’s office for consideration of criminal charges against Noor. The county attorney promised a decision by the end of 2017 but it did not come. In December, a cell phone video was released of Freeman at a holiday party, with activists asking him why Noor had not been charged yet. Freeman said that he didn’t have enough evidence to charge Noor, blaming investigators who “haven’t done their job.” The interaction was recorded without Freeman’s knowledge and was posted extensively on social media.

In late January, Damond family attorney Bob Bennett told KARE 11 that a grand jury had been called to hear testimony in the case, a development the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office would not confirm, citing the secrecy of the proceedings.

That testimony began in February, with more than 30 Minneapolis police officers subpoenaed to testify, including Officer Mohamed Noor’s partner, Officer Harrity.

Officer Noor was hired by the Minneapolis Police Department on March 23, 2015 and had no prior law enforcement experience. He completed training at the Minneapolis PD Academy and was trained in numerous scenarios, intended to teach officers how to identify a threat, if any, before shooting.

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