The Minneapolis killing of a Somali elder, Shirwa Hassan Jibril, after exiting a Metro bus earlier this month has shocked Twin Citians and sparked numerous concerns.
Besides heightening tensions over safety on public transportation, the incident potentially aggravates divisions between the Somali American and African American communities and points to the erosion of long-held community values such as respect for the elderly.
Jibril, 75, was a devout Muslim and a well-known and much-respected member of his community. According to his family, he was always willing to lend a hand to fellow Somalis who were struggling with legal paperwork and even served as an interpreter on occasion.
Jibril left behind eight children and seven grandchildren. He was coming home from noon prayer on November 6 and got on a Number 5 bus. When he asked some young African American men if they would quiet down, the youth then chose to target him.
When he exited the bus at the Chicago Lake Street Station, one of them, LeRoy Davis-Miles, punched him, causing him to fall and hit his head on the sidewalk. Jibril died at Hennepin County Medical Center days later. Davis-Miles, 23, has been charged with 2nd-degree murder.
The local corporate media covered the killing extensively, causing some in both the Somali and the AADOS (African American Descendants of Slaves) communities to suspect that the constant news coverage was projecting an internecine conflict between the two groups.
“I believe the mainstream media wants to create a divide between native-born African Americans and Africans,” said housing rights activist Shawn Lewis. “Though the truth is, this death has the potential to divide native African Americans and Continental Africans.”
“There are tensions that exist between Somali and the African American community, and this is due to U.S. customs people telling Somalis and other Africans to stay away from African Americans,” explained Bill English, Northside Job Creation Team consulting project director.
“There has to be a coming together of our two communities, perhaps led by the elders of both communities,” pointed out Brian Herron Sr., pastor of Zion Baptist Church.
Somali community activist Burhan Israel Isaaq called the killing “unprecedented” and accused the media coverage of exploiting what he termed “anti-Blackness.” He agreed that the Somali community and AADOS community view themselves differently.
“For example, many Somalis feel like the Black Lives Matter movement is not us. They honestly see themselves as outsiders and the racial assignment only belongs to Black people who have already been here.
“Some of our people don’t see themselves as Black. But we are all Black and they [the system] treat us all the same way,” said Isaaq. He added, “This is a result of being apolitical and ahistorical. We are a big community and we ought to be finding ways to connect and build. There is already so much against us.”
The killing of Jibril also raises concerns about the erosion of traditional community values, especially respect for elders. “What jumped out at me was, I don’t know if that could have happened in our day,” said Jewelean Jackson, an elder and active member of the Minneapolis African American community. “That could have been me. I am always asking young people to tone it down.”
“An attack on an elder of any race or background is an attack on us all,” explained English. “There is a lack of civility that has permeated our society—led by the behavior of President Trump—that is empowering people who think if it’s all right for the president, it must be all right for me.”
“A lot of folks don’t have a moral compass anymore,” said Herron. “Any elder being attacked is just flat out wrong. It shows a real disrespect not just for elders, but for themselves.”
Lewis thinks there has been an erosion of values that were once taken for granted in the traditional African American community and in Africa. “Respect for one’s elders is a part of African and African American history. It’s cultural,” he said.
Of course, Jibril’s death raised yet again the issue of safety on public transportation, which has been discussed at length recently. There have been calls from far and wide for more Metro Transit police, including from U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum (MN 4th District), who recently penned an editorial admitting that the core of the problem was social, yet concluding that it can only be solved with more police.
Jaylani Hussein, director of the local section of the Council on American Islamic Relations, Minnesota (CAIR), said the corporate press has called asking him for his opinion about the killing. “They have been pushing me. I had to tell them to back off. It seems like what they were trying to drive is [that] the killer has a rap sheet. They are pushing prosecutor talking points, the idea that the justice system is putting bad people on the street.”
The human rights advocate said he felt that there was an agenda by news organizations, and that it was in line with the push for more police on public transit.
“The question is not should we add more police, but how are you going to use the added police?” said Herron. “If they are going to be community-oriented and get to the root cause, then yeah, let’s do more police. But if all they are going to do is more policing and more occupying than protecting and serving, what good will it do? It would only exacerbate the situation.
“I would like to see more grassroots organizations like MAD DADS and A Mother’s Love group patrol our buses. The transit police are too aggressive. So no, there should be no more transit police.”