After the latest spasm of gang violence, Minneapolis’ Somali residents and business owners on Monday stepped up their calls for help from City Hall and police headquarters to help curb the senseless shootings that they say too often go overlooked.
On Friday alone, five men of Somali descent were shot in separate attacks, one fatally.
Police and community members pinned the blame for the bloodshed on an ongoing feud between Cedar-Riverside neighborhood gangs like 1627 and Madhiban With Attitude (MWA) and their rivals, the Somali Outlaws, whose territory includes the area around Karmel Mall. Friday’s shootings were a repeat of a familiar pattern: a shooting on one gang’s turf is usually followed hours, if not minutes later by an “eye-for-an-eye” response so as not to appear weak, community members say. Two shootings last month are also blamed on the conflict.
As with other recent shootings, police immediately stepped up patrols in both neighborhoods to prevent further retaliation. But some in the community wondered whether they could be doing more.
Russom Solomon, owner of the Red Sea Bar and Restaurant, said that responsibility for curbing the violence falls equally on police and the community, but he questioned why the two Somali-American officers recently assigned to the Cedar-Riverside beat aren’t working nights, when many of the shootings occur.
“The problem we’re dealing with is that they work during the day and not during the night, so they’ve just had little effect,” said Solomon, who also chairs the West Bank Community Coalition’s safety committee. “The perception of safety is not good, people don’t feel that safe — they’re just poisoning the whole neighborhood now.”
In response to the recent violence, First Precinct inspector Eddie Frizell said he increased foot patrols, while reassigning some of his mounted patrol officers to ride in squad cars sweeping the area. He said he also has a “dedicated response car” that responds to serious crime scenes around the area after 6 p.m.
But, he said, the department can’t do it alone, emphasizing the need for broad police-community partnerships to overcome cultural barriers.
“Cedar-Riverside is another example of collaboration,” he said. “I’ve had one-on-one conversations with the mothers and elders, and I’m getting a lesson in cultural hierarchy.”
A message left with the office of councilman Abdi Warsame, whose ward covers some of the neighborhoods most troubled by the gang feud, went unreturned Monday.
The latest shooting in the feud happened Friday night, when police say several members of the Somali Outlaws were shot, possibly for infringing on enemy territory.
Surveillance video from the homicide, which occurred just before midnight, showed three males — aged 17, 21 and 31 — sitting in a parked car at 1500 S. 4th St. when two men approached and began firing before fleeing, witnesses say. Their bullets ripped into the car, hitting all three occupants and killing the teenager, police said. The other men were treated at area hospitals.
Despite the recent bloodshed, police statistics suggest Cedar-Riverside has gotten safer than it has been, as aggravated assaults like stabbings and shootings fell 65 percent from 2017 to last year. Overall, violent crimes are down more than 40 percent.
A heavy mood
Many of the recent shootings have been carried out by 1627, a newer street crew that takes its name from one of the high-rises that juts above the ethnically diverse neighborhood of cafes, bars and furniture stores.
Mayor Jacob Frey said his “heart is with the community and family members that are grieving as the victims of this horrible shooting,” and suggested that one solution lay with the proposed expansion of the heralded Project LIFE anti-violence program to the area.
“I have repeatedly heard from members of the Somali community that more beat officers, especially Somali beat officers, would be helpful,” Frey said. “I believe expanding on that is the right move.”
Around Karmel Mall, the mood Monday was heavy with news of the drive-by shooting outside the mall three nights before.
Abdi Ali sat drinking tea with friends in a coffee shop, tucked among the colorful stalls of spices and textiles and housewares. The others nodded in agreement as he questioned how seemingly so many acts of violence involving victims of east African descent go unsolved.
“We’ve been here 20 years, and I’ve never seen anything like this,” said Ali, who owns a textile stall. “A lot of people are not coming to this area anymore.”
In a beauty shop upstairs, Amina Boton recalled the shock of being surrounded by a sea of flashing blue lights as she pulled out of her parking spot in the shooting’s aftermath Friday night. Young troublemakers frequently hang around the entrance to the mall, harassing customers, she said, scattering whenever they see a police squad roll by.
“When the police stay near the mall, the bad people stay far away,” she said.
Some residents shied away from talking about the gang violence because they worry that, much like with the upcoming murder trial of fired Minneapolis police officer Mohamed Noor for the fatal shooting of Justine Ruszczyk Damond and the recent high-profile prosecutions of young east African men bent on joining extremist groups in the Middle East and Africa, the Somali community will ultimately be blamed for the bad actions of a few.
Frizell said his officers have been trying to educate community elders frustrated by the nuances of “the judicial system,” and explain why someone arrested for a violent crime could later be released to “wreak havoc on the streets.”
“Whenever we have a significant act of violence, i.e., a homicide down in that area, we hold emergency safety meetings,” he said, adding that he also meets regularly with other commanders to discuss crime statistics, trends and tactics.
For Abdullahi Farah, a local youth outreach worker, the problem starts at home, where parents struggle to connect with their American-born or raised children who find themselves without support after aging out of area youth programs.
“In reality the community is not really engaging the youth in a proactive way,” he said. “They react when there’s violence, but when there isn’t violence they’re not being proactive.”