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African-Americans voice Somali support
Members of the Minneapolis Somali community angered by the weekend
police shooting of a mentally ill Somali man are getting sympathy from
African-American activists.
                                                                                                         Abu Kissim JeilaniQandala Home
Somali leaders spoke to a group of African-Americans on Tuesday at a
forum held in a north Minneapolis restaurant. Both the Somalis and many
in the audience called the shooting of Abu Kissim Jeilani an act of
police brutality. St. Paul Civil Rights Director Tyrone Terrill says
thepolice officers didn't have to shoot Jeilani.

"If you tell me that 12 officers, who are highly trained, as the police
chief said yesterday several times, can't disarm a mentally disabled
man who's got a knife and a crowbar, then something's wrong with your
police office," said Terrill. "I wouldn't want to call them to come help me."

Saheed Fahia is the executive director of the Confederation of the
Somali Community in Minnesota. He says talks with Minneapolis Police
Chief Robert Olson have been unsatisfying.

"The answers given to us by the chief of police and by some of his
assistants were not enough," said Fahia. "It was all evasive. It was
all saying like 'we will know after the investigation, the police did the
right thing.'"

Minneapolis police officials say the officers were following standard
procedures for the use of deadly force. The Hennepin County Sheriff
Department will handle the investigation of the shooting

Minneapolis police officials say the officers were following standard
procedures for the use of deadly force. The Hennepin County Sheriff
Department will handle the investigation of the shooting

Looking for answers
By Art Hughes
Minnesota Public Radio
March 12, 2002
Minneapolis police, public officials and community members continue to search for answers following Sunday's shooting death of an apparently mentally ill Somali man. Police shot the man after he allegedly refused to drop a machete and a crowbar he was carrying. Somalis in the south Minneapolis neighborhood where the shooting happened are angry at what they call excessive force used by the police. And mental health advocates say the shooting points out the shortcomings of the system that is supposed to help avoid such tragedies.
Minneapolis police were investigating the shooting Tuesday, at the corner of Franklin and Chicago Avenues. On Sunday afternoon, police officers shot and killed a Somali man who was mentally ill.
(MPR Photo/Art Hughes)

Chicago Crossings Shopping Center, at the corner of Franklin and Chicago Avenues in Minneapolis, is a small scale representation of the Phillips neighborhood itself. There's an Asian grocery next to a Somali market, which is next to a Subway sandwich franchise with a Cambodian owner.
It was at this corner that a confusing confrontation between Abu Kassim Jeilani and police ended with Jeilani dead, and many Somali residents asking questions.
In the Halal grocery, Abdi Rashid says Somalis need to respond to the shooting by confronting police and elected officials.
Other business owners in the shopping center didn't want to be recorded on tape, but many said they were afraid and locked their doors when they saw Jeilani confronting police with a machete. One store owner says Jeilani swung the machete at officers and ignored commands to put his weapons down.
Minneapolis police say the ordeal spanned at least eight blocks and 10 to 15 minutes, in which Jeilani ran from officers until they blocked his path. Within a minute of the first contact, police called in two specially-trained Critical Incident Team officers who deal specifically with people with mental illness. When efforts to disarm Jielani peacefully failed, six officers fired simultaneously, killing him.
Somali leader Mohammed Hassan asked a full house at the Insight KMOJ Public Policy Forum at Lucille's Kitchen for support in protesting the police shooting of a Somali man on Sunday.
(MPR Photo/Brandt Williams)

Theresa Carufel is with the Friends of Barbara Schneider Foundation, a group formed one-and-a-half years ago, following another fatal police shooting. Police responding to a loud noise complaint ended up killing Schneider as she came at them with a knife. Carufel praises the efforts of police to develop training for officers then. She says each interaction between police and mentally ill person is the end result of a failing system.
"I just know that mental illness is a barrier in and of itself, and for the police officer to be responding to something that the mental health profession should be responding to - I just think they need more of a back-up," says Carufel.
The foundation issued a list of demands following the Schneider shooting that include a review of crisis events, better training for police and others, and funding for patient services.
Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak vows to make long-term structural changes, such as making the police force more ethnically diverse and analyzing relations between police and residents. He also has a personal tie to the place of the shooting - his family owned a store at that intersection.
"My mother was a widow running a store at that corner. Had there been a man there with a machete I would have wanted her to be protected. We've got to understand that's a value at play here," Rybak said. "I believe what procedure we use to respond to mental illness is a question a lot of people in this community are asking right now - legitimately. And that's why we're going to be dealing with that - continuing to review that procedure."



"I believe what procedure we use to respond to mental illness is a question a lot of people in this community are asking right now - legitimately. And that's why we're going to be dealing with that - continuing to review that procedure."
- Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak



Rybak calls the shooting a terrible and tragic loss. But he says everyone should seek out accurate and independent sources of information.
Meantime, Somali leaders told a predominantly African-American crowd Tuesday the death of Jeilani is a case of police brutality. Some members of the African-American community said they can sympathize with the Somalis.
Mohammed Hassan told a full house at the Insight KMOJ public policy forum at Lucille's Kitchen that he can't understand why police killed Jeilani.
Hassan, who is the crime prevention director for the Somali Community of Minnesota, says even though Jeilani was carrying a machete and a crowbar, he is convinced the man posed no threat.
He says Somalis understand America to be a country of laws, and he asked the African-American community to help demand justice for an action which he says was unjustified.
"We are asking the African-American society to stand with us in this critical situation. And ask that those perpetrators who killed this young innocent man be brought to justice," Hassan said.
Saheed Fahia, Executive Director of the Confederation of the Somali Community in Minnesota, thanked members of the African-American community for their support. Fahia says the shooting of Jeilani only adds to the fear and mistrust many Somalis have of the police.
The controversy over the police shooting of a Somali immigrant who was apparently mentally ill presents a major challenge for Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak. Rybak calls the shooting a terrible and tragic loss. But he says everyone should seek out accurate and independent sources of information.
(MPR Photo/Art Hughes)

"The community has been really fearful," Fahia said. "This happens from a backdrop of bad relations with the police for the last three or four years."
Fahia did not say Somalis are necessarily targets of police brutality. But he did say that many Somalis question the police department's willingness to pursue those who commit crimes against Somalis.
St. Paul Civil Rights director Tyrone Terrill said the incident reminded him of the death of Tycel Nelson, a black teenager who was killed in Minneapolis by a white police officer 12 years ago. Terrill says Sunday's shooting serves as a lesson for Somalis on what it's like to be black in America.
"He was shot because he was black. We need to be clear it wasn't about Somalia. It's like Malcolm said, it wasn't about Muslim or Christian," said Terrill. "They're not going to stop you and ask you if you're Somalian. The issue is the color of your skin."
Terrill says the black community shares some responsibility for this incident. He says African-Americans living in the Twin Cities should have been more organized, and put more pressure on the police department after past shootings.
Members of the Somali community are calling for an independent investigation of the shooting, and are asking for the removal of Police Chief Robert Olson.
(MPR reporter Brandt Williams contributed to this story)
More from MPR
·  The New Disparities From MPR's Color of Justice project (November, 2001)

source Minnesota Public Radio
webpage (www.mpr.org)
Copyright © 2001 By Qandala