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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.”

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Ilhan Omar: No debate on ‘whether Trump is a racist’ | UpFront

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Hers is a remarkable journey: from a refugee camp in Kenya to a state legislature in the United States. In 2016, Ilhan Omar became the first elected Somali-American Muslim lawmaker in the US, the same night that Donald Trump was elected president.

When asked about Trump’s role in the rise of anti-Muslim, far right, white nationalist hate groups in the country, Omar says she would come very short of holding him “exclusively responsible”.

“I think when you … demonise and dehumanise, it is easy for people to commit acts of violence against those individuals because they no longer see them as a person, as someone who has feelings, who’s worthy of respect,” says Omar.

“We are moving away from this idea that we are supposed to be a welcoming nation.”

In this special interview, we speak with Minnesota State Representative Ilhan Omar about Trump and the rise of Islamophobia in the US.

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Case of botched ICE flight to Somalia signals legal shift on deportations

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The U.S. government’s prospects for deporting 92 people it unsuccessfully tried to fly to Somalia in December are getting murkier.

What’s more, a legal fight over the passengers’ fates — many of whom are from Minnesota — joins a string of recent cases that could stake out a more muscular role for federal courts in blocking deportations. The government has countered that Congress stripped the courts of any say in deportation challenges.

But a Miami federal judge ruled he has the power to keep the 92 Somalis in the United States, and he appears poised to give them time to fight their removals. That’s the latest example of judges reasserting an authority to stay removals, particularly in cases where authorities come for immigrants long slated for deportation but allowed to stay because of conditions in their home country. Just last week, a judge in California blocked the deportations of Cambodians, including at least one from Minnesota, ordered back when that country refused to take deportees.

“It’s really important to make sure the courts have some check on what could be unfettered federal government power over deportation,” said Michele McKenzie of Minneapolis-based nonprofit The Advocates for Human Rights, which has helped with the Somalia case.

In court filings, the government has suggested these judicial decisions will spur a flurry of last-ditch, frivolous court bids to win extra time in the United States. It has noted that some immigrants involved in the recent cases, such as two-thirds of the passengers on the botched flight to Somalia, have criminal convictions, including for murder.

A failed mission

A chartered Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) flight with the 92 Somalis made it to Senegal back in December. But according to a government account, logistical issues stranded the plane for 20 hours at a Dakar airport and led the agency to return the deportees to Florida.

Attorneys have said 28 of the passengers are from Minnesota. Some have lengthy criminal histories. Others, including a Rochester cardiovascular technician and an Owatonna police officer, built quiet lives after failed asylum claims years ago. ICE detained them amid a return to deporting immigrants to Somalia that began under the Obama administration and ramped up last year under President Donald Trump.

The Miami lawsuit alleges the detainees spent 40 hours sitting shackled on the plane and were struck, kicked, choked and disparaged by guards. Attorneys at the University of Minnesota’s Center for New Americans, the University of Miami and two other organizations argue the failed flight and international publicity surrounding it have made it more dangerous to return the deportees to Somalia. They asked the judge to block a do-over of the flight so the plaintiffs can file new cases in immigration court or with the Board of Immigration Appeals.

In January, attorneys also filed a complaint that said staff at a Florida detention center were abusive and denied plaintiffs enough access to lawyers and medical treatment.

ICE doesn’t comment on pending suits. But in court filings, officials denied the plaintiffs’ allegations, offering testimony from health care providers and saying the detention center segregated some after disorderly behavior, such as assaults on staff.

The government has argued the court has no jurisdiction in the case because the Real ID Act of 2005 placed deportation challenges in the hands of the immigration appeals board.

Judge Darrin Gayles ruled the case’s “extraordinary circumstances” give him limited jurisdiction to ensure due process for the plaintiffs, who might have new arguments for reopening their deportation cases.

Winning reprieves

Gayles will decide this month whether to continue blocking passengers’ deportations and for how long, but his order signaled he is open to giving the plaintiffs until they get a response on bids to reopen their cases.

The courts have also reclaimed a more active role in blocking deportations in recent cases involving Iraqi immigrants in the Detroit area and Indonesian Christians in New Hampshire. In late January, a federal judge in California stayed the deportations of about 90 Cambodian refugees detained nationwide. Linus Chan of the Center for New Americans said these cases are significant at a time of stepped-up enforcement. A district court in the Twin Cities also acted to keep several men off the December flight to Somalia.

The judges are saying you can’t just sit on these orders for five or 10 years and then deport people without giving them a chance to challenge their removals because so much has changed,” Chan said.

Jessica Vaughan of the Center for Immigration Studies, which advocates for restricting immigration, said the rulings concern her — the judges are not accountable if those with convictions reoffend during these reprieves — but she believes they will be reversed: “The appeals courts and the Supreme Court are going to get very busy with all this lawfare aimed at undermining enforcement of our immigration laws.”

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Trump’s ‘marching orders’ to the Pentagon: Plan a grand military parade

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump has ordered Pentagon and White House officials to begin planning a military parade in Washington similar to the Bastille Day parade he witnessed in Paris in July, the Washington Post reported on Tuesday.

At a meeting at the Pentagon on Jan. 18 that included Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman General Joseph Dunford, Trump said he wanted a military parade, the Post reported, citing a military official who spoke on condition of anonymity.

“The marching orders were: I want a parade like the one in France,” the military official said, according to the Post. “This is being worked at the highest levels of the military,” the official added.

After the Post published its story, the White House issued a statement that said Trump “has asked the Department of Defense to explore a celebration at which all Americans can show their appreciation.”

A White House official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the parade planning was in the “brainstorming” stage and nothing had been decided, the Post reported.

The Pentagon was aware of a request for a parade but was only just starting to explore possibilities, including on timing, a Pentagon spokesman told Reuters.

Trump has said he was impressed by the military parade he watched in Paris on July 14. U.S. and French soldiers marched together to mark 100 years since the United States entered World War One and France’s annual Bastille Day holiday. It included tanks, armored vehicles and a flyover of U.S. and French military jets.

“To a large extent because of what I witnessed, we may do something like that on July 4 in Washington down Pennsylvania Avenue,” Trump told reporters in September. “We’re actually looking into it.”

The U.S. capital has held large military displays to mark significant occasions, including victories in war, but rolling tanks and marching troops down Pennsylvania Avenue are not typically done on the U.S. Independence Day holiday.

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