Somali activism on the rise against police violence

Abdulahi Farah, program and service director at Dar Al Faroq Islamic Center
Photo by King Demetrius Pendleton

The Somali community in the Twin Cities has become a more visible and viable force in the effort to push back against police violence. The community—especially its younger members—was active in the initial protests calling for justice for George Floyd and has remained a force to be reckoned with.

The police killing of Isak Aden in 2019 and the more recent police killing of Dolal Idd have helped galvanize the Somali community’s efforts against police violence. The injustice surrounding their killings contributed to the community’s awareness of the need for change and strengthened its resolve to bring such change about.

Burhan Israefael began his work as a community activist at the age of 17. Thirteen years and two degrees later, he continues to call for structural change while he works as a behavioral health therapist. He sees the time following Floyd’s killing as an opportune moment for change.

“It’s one of those seize-the-time types of opportunities,” he said, quoting the Black Panther Party. “We’re very visible, especially our sisters. We’re Black, Muslim and immigrants, so they automatically see us as an outsider.”

Rooted in Pan African thought, Israfael sees the Somali community playing a pivotal role in bringing change to policing in the Twin Cities. He disagrees with those who advocate that only African descendants of slaves should be involved in organizing for change when the issue of police brutality impacts immigrants as well.

“You can go back to Amadou Diallo, who was an African immigrant. Even then I’m sure they had those conversations about him,” he said.

On Dec. 30, 2020 Minneapolis police were involved in the death of Dolal Idd, a 23-year-old Somali man who was fatally shot in what was later revealed to be a sting operation. The shooting took place in proximity of the site of Floyd’s killing. It resulted in a large and rapid response from the Somali community, who gathered and protested at the scene for several days following the shooting.

Idd’s older sister, Ikran Idd, wants people to know that her family has not given up the fight for justice and has no plans on letting up. “Just because people stopped protesting or stopped talking doesn’t mean the situation is over,” she said.

“We’ve lost loved ones and we’re serious. We don’t want another individual to suffer from police brutality.”

Idd’s father, Bayle Adod Gelle, has been actively seeking answers for his son’s killing and advocating for police reform. He attended a protest on the first day of the Chauvin trial in support of Floyd. Ikran said that though her father was hesitant at first to appear on the news, he wanted other parents who had lost loved ones to police brutality to be empowered to speak up.

The Idd family has since retained an attorney to help get answers about Dolal’s shooting, but they have received little information from law enforcement. They’ve put in requests for camera footage from the night of the shooting, and the lack of response has grown frustrating.

Undeterred, Ikran insists that her family will find justice for her brother no matter how long it takes. They expressed hope that pending legislation will address police violence. “We need a firm law that will prevent others from experiencing the same thing that we did,” she said.

Some lawmakers in Minnesota have indicated their support for legislation that would hold officers accountable. Floyd was killed in State Senator Omar Fateh’s district. His office provided a statement calling for the passing of legislation that would “prevent what happened to George Floyd from ever happening again.” The statement also described the Black community as united in support of eight bills in the Minnesota legislature that focus on policing.

In recent weeks Mayor Jacob Frey, along with Minneapolis City Council members and law enforcement officials, have drawn attention to some of the violence occurring in and around George Floyd Square. The square, serving as the memorial site for George Floyd, is located at the intersection of 38th St. and Chicago Ave. where he was killed.

Community activists like Huda Yusuf see this push from local leaders to disband the square as a statement. “It’s the State saying that they don’t like resistance,” she said. Yusuf describes the square as a center point for neighboring communities who visited the intersection in search of goods and supplies following the uprisings last summer.

The 25 year old Yusuf works closely with the community, especially youth, who have been discouraged from activism in the past. “They have the mindset and the will to back change,” she said. As for the Somali community as a whole, Yusuf sees this activism as an opportunity for spiritual involvement. “We claim that the most peaceful people are Muslims, so we have to show it.”

Faith leaders have also taken part in the struggle against police violence and for justice. The Minnesota Muslim Leaders Coalition (MNMLC), with the support of 38 other organizations, released a statement last year after Floyd was killed calling for structural change in the Minneapolis Police Department. Abdulahi Farah is one of the leaders involved with the MNMLC and is the programs and services director at Dar Al Farooq Islamic Center.

Farah said that the Islamic faith continuously calls for its adherents to be moral protagonists, and that sitting on the sidelines when injustice takes place is contradictory to the faith and its values. Dar Al Farooq has led and facilitated listening sessions in the past year to expand the conversations around race and policing in the community.

“We wanted to make sure that the community could have a space where they could talk about what they would like to see differently,” Farah said, “in a message that is rooted in hope and what’s possible.”

According to Farah, the older generation of Somalis had previously viewed the police as always right, but they have now realized that there is bias that dictates how they choose to treat different individuals. The center has shown documentaries, including “Jim Crow of the North,” and discussed issues such as red-lining to better educate their members on the history of racism.

 In order to see this change come to fruition, Farah and other members of the coalition are pushing for political activism in their communities in the form of caucusing and communicating with local politicians. They’d like to see amendments made to the Minneapolis City Charter that would ensure changes to policing in the city.

“Our coalition is pushing for the charter change and making sure that there is a public safety department that is accountable to the community,” he said. “Safety is more than policing.”