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Somalis in Minneapolis Shocked and Saddened by Police Shooting

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MINNEAPOLIS — His hiring by the Minneapolis Police Department was hailed by the mayor as “a wonderful sign.” Hundreds of Somalis attended an event at a local mall welcoming him to the force, lining up to take pictures and shake his hand.

But just 14 months after Mohamed Noor became the first Somali police officer to be stationed in his precinct, which has a large immigrant population, he is now under scrutiny for fatally shooting an Australian woman after she called 911 to report a possible sexual assault near her home.

The encounter has drawn international outrage about American police practices; the Australian prime minister on Wednesday condemned the shooting of Justine Damond as “a shocking killing.” Her loved ones, including her father, John Ruszczyk, who lives in Sydney, have said they were desperate for information about what happened. “Justine was a beacon to all of us,” he said.

On Wednesday, more details emerged. In the minutes before being shot on Saturday, Ms. Damond, whose legal name was Justine Ruszczyk, called 911 twice, according to transcripts released by the Minneapolis police.

“I can hear someone out the back and I, I’m not sure if she’s having sex or being raped,” she told the dispatcher, “but it’s been going on for a while and I think she tried to say help and it sounds distressed.”

The dispatcher said an officer was on the way. Eight minutes later, with apparently no officers yet on scene, Ms. Damond called again to reiterate her concern for the woman, asking whether the police had the wrong address.

The dispatcher assured her that officers were coming, and the call ended. Shortly thereafter, Officer Noor arrived in the alley.

Officer Noor’s hiring was seen as a bridge to a refugee community that has at times felt victimized by the police. Now, one of their own is the one in uniform accused of brutality. On Wednesday, the mayor of Minneapolis, Betsy Hodges, posted a Facebook message addressed to Somali residents, seeking to assure them that they “are a valued and appreciated part of Minneapolis.”

Mahamed Yusuf was at Karmel Mall for Officer Noor’s welcome, and said that local Somalis had been heartened to have one of their own on the police force.

“We have a guy between the police and the community,” Mr. Yusuf said. Since the shooting, he said, Somalis have been “burning inside” and grasping for answers.

“He was looking so nice and humble, and he loved his job,” Mr. Yusuf, 63, said. “Everybody in the community is shocked and sad.”

As the Somali immigrant population in Minneapolis has grown, members of the community have sometimes expressed frustration with law enforcement. In 2002, after Minneapolis officers fatally shot a Somali man carrying a machete, critics accused the officers of using excessive force, claiming the man was mentally ill and did not understand English.

More recently, some Somalis here have criticized the tactics used in federal prosecutions of young men accused of trying to join overseas terrorist organizations. The strain of police shootings of black people — with a few prominent cases in the Twin Cities area — has also left some Somalis wary of law enforcement.

The Minneapolis police have worked in recent years to add Somali officers to the force and have reached out to the immigrant community. After last year’s presidential election, amid heightened concern about deportations, a Somali-speaking officer recorded a YouTube video assuring residents that the local police did not enforce immigration law.

Ms. Hodges also said that Officer Noor “won’t be treated differently than any other officer” and that the shooting had happened “under circumstances we don’t yet comprehend.”

“We cannot compound that tragedy by turning to racism, xenophobia and Islamophobia,” Ms. Hodges said. “It is unjust and ridiculous to assert that an entire community be held responsible for the actions of one person. That will not be tolerated in Minneapolis.”

Minneapolis police records show that Officer Noor has been the subject of three citizen complaints during his short career. Two of those cases remain open, and one was closed without any discipline. Details about those incidents were not released. Court records show that Mr. Noor has a son born in 2010, and that he was involved in 2015 in a custody dispute with the mother, who wanted to move out of state.
A day before the shooting, a lawsuit accusing Officer Noor and two of his colleagues of misconduct was filed in federal court. The lawsuit, filed by a woman who said the police had illegally taken her into custody for a mental health checkup in May, said Officer Noor had taken her phone from her hand “and then grabbed her right wrist and upper arm, thereby immobilizing her.”

Jordan S. Kushner, a lawyer for the woman, said Officer Noor “was a participant in what we consider a real egregious and dramatic violation of her rights.” He noted that his client had initially called the police for help that day, just as the woman Officer Noor shot on Saturday did.

Officer Noor’s lawyer did not respond to repeated requests for an interview. Officer Noor has so far declined to speak with state investigators about the shooting. No one answered the door on Wednesday at an apartment tied to him.

Large numbers of Somali refugees, fleeing violence and famine in their homeland, began arriving in Minneapolis in the 1990s, and around 30,000 are said to now live in the Twin Cities area. Members of the community have been elected to public office, worked as journalists and joined the military. But over the years, many Somalis have expressed frustration with their portrayals in the news media, saying reporters have unfairly emphasized stories about terrorist recruitment and cultural differences.

Abdirizak Bihi, a Somali community leader in Minneapolis, said that the relationship between the local police and Somalis had improved significantly in recent years and that the community celebrates when one of its members becomes an officer. He knows several Somali youths considering careers in law enforcement.

“We worked so hard to get Somali police officers,” Mr. Bihi said.

Mr. Bihi said Somalis empathized with Ms. Damond as a fellow immigrant, but resented the news media attention on Officer Noor’s heritage.

“Why in the world would he be seen as a Somali and not a Minneapolis police officer?” Mr. Bihi said. “The community feels betrayed.”

The shooting also made headlines in Somalia, where many worried it could paint a negative image of Somalis and harm the status of refugee applications, many of which have been rejected under President Trump’s travel ban.

“Many Somalis are talking about the case as though the case occurred here in Somalia,” said Abdirahman Hassan Omar, a lawyer based in Mogadishu, the Somali capital. “Because of the travel ban, this is making us worried a lot.”

The shooting, said Nadiir Shariif Maqbuul, an activist in Mogadishu, will affect the Somali communities not only in Australia and the United States, but also in Europe and elsewhere.

In Minneapolis, people who had met Officer Noor struggled to square their recollections of him with the shooting of Ms. Damond, which, so far at least, has defied explanation.

“Officer Noor was a good guy,” said Abdihakim Bashir, 35, who was shopping on Wednesday at the bustling Karmel Mall. “We were very surprised by the news. We don’t know what happened. It was an accident, and every human can make a mistake.”

US News

Trump’s travel ban is finally getting its Supreme Court showdown

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Donald Trump’s travel ban is officially headed to the Supreme Court for what’s likely to be its final showdown.

The High Court announced that its justices would hear Trump v. Hawaii on Friday afternoon after vacating a lower court’s decision to stay the current version of Trump’s travel ban. Most recently, the famously liberal 9th Circuit court had struck down the ban entirely and set the stage for a Supreme Court showdown.

Trump’s travel ban, which prohibits people from certain Muslim-majority countries from traveling to the U.S., is now in its third version. In September, the administration added Venezuela, Chad, and North Korea to the existing list of Libya, Syria, Yemen, Somalia, and Iran. While multiple lower courts had blocked the two earlier versions of the policy, those were eventually replaced, making a Supreme Court hearing unnecessary.

In early December, the Supreme Court allowed the third version to go into effect — but only until the 9th Circuit completed its ruling on a pending appeal. After that, the justices would decide whether to hear the case again. Previously, in June, the High Court had ruled that travelers from countries named in the ban with ties to the United States would remain unaffected.

When the first ban was officially introduced in an executive order on Jan. 27 of last year, critics and advocacy groups immediately began characterizing it as an unconstitutional Muslim ban, meant to target immigrants and travelers by their place of origin, ethnicity, and religion rather than any security threat they might pose. Throughout all the ban’s iterations and court battles, that fundamental argument has remained the same.

“Every version of the ban has been found unconstitutional, illegal, or both by federal trial and appellate courts,” said Omar Jadwat, director of the ACLU’s Immigrants’ Rights Project, in a press release on Friday. “The Supreme Court can and should put a definitive end to President Trump’s attempt to undermine the constitutional guarantee of religious equality and the basic principles of our immigration laws, including their prohibition of national origin discrimination.”

And Neil Katyal, a lawyer for those appealing the ban, tweeted:

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Briefing Room

“America is home”: How Trump’s immigration policies are upending Somali lives in the US

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Maruf Sharif was shackled in the plane, which was flying him over the Atlantic Ocean to a country he hadn’t seen for almost three decades.

But before the flight’s final destination at the Somali capital Mogadishu, it stopped for a layover in Dakar, Senegal. There, a disturbing narrative was revealed about the ordeal endured by Sharif and the 91 other Somali deportees who were being returned to Somalia.

During the flight, a lawsuit filed by some of the detainees notes that US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents forced them to stay seated, denied them access to a bathroom, and “kicked, struck, choked, and dragged” them. This “inhumane” treatment lasted for 48 hours—23 of which the plane sat on the runway in Senegal.

Citing logistical problems, immigration officials eventually decided to turn the plane and head back to the United States. It’s not completely clear why this happened. ICE told the New York Times that a relief flight crew had been unable to get sufficient rest.

The aircraft and its detainees spent their time in Dakar parked at the airport. Observers say the episode gives insight into the poorly planned and hasty nature of the deportation agenda under the Trump’s immigration policy.

However, the return to the US was a relief for Sharif and his family, who were fighting his deportation and who had tried everything to keep him in the US. The trip back also saved Sharif from taking the reverse journey back to Somalia where he left when he was just eight years old.

In the mid-1990s, after fleeing Somalia’s civil war and living in Kenya as a refugee, Sharif and his family were granted resettlement and moved to the United States. As a teenager navigating the streets of Columbus, Ohio, he started hanging out with the wrong crowd, and in 2002, was convicted of aggravated assault and sentenced to 15 years in prison.
After a decade, Sharif was released on parole in 2012 and went about rebuilding his life. Despite his criminal record, he started working the system to get his driver’s license, got engaged, and got a stable job working at a restaurant where he worked himself from dishwasher to second chef. Members of his family who spoke to Quartz said that he was really determined to change his life and start a family.

“He was really improving,” Ahmed Aden, a relative of Sharif’s who lives in Nairobi, told Quartz. “He was very passionate and working hard.”

But all that changed in early 2017 after president Donald Trump was elected into office. On Jan. 2017, Trump barred the citizens of seven majority Muslim nations including Somalia from entering the United States. While the ban was challenged in courts and Iraq removed from the list, the Supreme Court allowed it to take full effect in December. As Trump pushed for tougher immigration enforcement, federal immigration officials also stepped up their arrests of undocumented immigrants and refugees.

This was bad news for Sharif, who wasn’t an American citizen yet. After being summoned by his parole officer in early 2017, Sharif was detained by ICE officials and informed that he will be deported back to Somalia. Despite his unfortunate circumstances, the 35-year-old was hardly the only one facing deportation. In the last year, forced removals by ICE officials of Somali citizens have more than doubled, jumping from 198 in 2016 to 521 in 2017.

Kim Hunter, an immigration lawyer in Minnesota, said that up until last year, the civil strife and insecurity in Somalia deterred officials from deporting immigrants. Only those with “the most serious criminal records” were being expelled, while those working and living lawfully were even assured by officials that they weren’t priorities.

“The Trump Administration put a great deal of pressure on Somalia to start accepting deportees,” Hunter, who has two clients who were due for deportation, said. “And as with so many actions by the current government, this has generated a lot of confusion and fear.”

Trump’s reversal of long-standing immigration policies was bound to impact the Somalis, one of the largest African immigrant communities in the US. Over the last few years, Somalis in the US have become the microcosm of the debate surrounding immigration, refugee resettlement, and national security.

In 2016, a federal jury found three men guilty of plotting to join the terror group ISIL overseas. This made the community vulnerable to surveillance; at one point, the Federal Bureau of Investigation directed its agents to use a community outreach program for spying.

During the presidential elections, Trump also singled out Somalis multiple times, accusing them of coming from “dangerous territories,” fraying social nets, and blamed faulty vetting processes for allowing a large number of Somalis to come to states like Minnesota, Maine, and Ohio.

Kali Mohamed, a community activist in Minneapolis, says this is “unfair” given that members of the community own businesses, pay taxes, and annually send more than $200 million in remittances back home. In 2016, voters of the District 60B in southeast Minneapolis also elected Ilhan Omar, who became the first Somali-American Muslim female legislator in the US.

Kali says the increased scrutiny, travel bans, and subsequent deportations now threaten to instill fear and suspicion and break up families. “It’s really hard trying to navigate through all this,” he said.

State of limbo

After almost a year in detention, Sharif was slated for deportation back to Somalia in mid-December. That’s when he landed in Senegal, shackled along with the others. Afterwards, a federal judge in Florida granted them a temporary reprieve and they were taken to various detention centers in Florida.

At the Glades county detention facility where Sharif is, several Somali detainees have since complained of alleged maltreatment and abuse. In a sworn affidavit seen by Quartz by immigration lawyer John Bruning from Kim Hunter’s law firm, detainees complained of being verbally abused and being subjected to excessive physical force.

Sharif’s family, however, confirmed to Quartz that he has suffered no physical injuries while at Glades but was put in solitary confinement for about a week for refusing to remove his kufi cap.

Lawyers like Hunter now hope that this period of stay would allow them to reopen appeal cases for their clients. And families like Sharif’s hope he would be allowed to stay, and not return to a dangerous country that recently experienced its deadliest terror attack ever.

Aden says that before he was arrested, Sharif called to convey how his life was turning positively. “He is very expressive and frank and he would tell you how he was happy,” Aden said. “He would say ‘America is home.’”

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Africa

Trump criticised over ‘shithole countries’ remark

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AL JAZEERA — A small group of US senators say they reached a compromise on immigration reform, but it has yet to win the support of President Donald Trump.

According to several reports, Trump made vulgar remarks about Haiti, El Salvador and African countries during the discussions, calling them “shithole countries” and objecting to immigrants coming from there.

He suggested that the United States should instead bring more people from countries like Norway.

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