City Somalis react to Jeilani ruling

Amy Hackbarth

A Hennepin County grand jury cleared six Minneapolis police officers last week of wrongdoing in the March shooting of a Somali man.

Abu Kassim Jeilani, 28, was shot by the officers 12 times after police spotted him walking down the street with a machete and crowbar in south Minneapolis. Jeilani’s relatives said he was mentally ill.

Members of the Somali community reacted with outrage to Thursday’s decision, which they called disappointing and unjust.

“I can understand if they shoot him once. I can understand if they shoot him twice,” said Hussein Warsame, a member of the Somali Justice Advocacy Center. “But for crying out loud – 16 times and you tell me they are within the limits of the law? That’s a cowboy mentality.”

“I am in shock,” said Burhar Dalmar, a 2001 University graduate. “It was what I least expected.”

Others questioned the legitimacy of the Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office investigation, which provided case information to the jury.

“The investigation was very biased from the get-go,” Warsame said. “It was far from being independent.”

But police Chief Robert Olson said his department didn’t see the sheriff’s report until Thursday night, after the jury delivered its verdict.

“The investigation is always kept separate from us; we don’t see it,” Olson said. “We now have access to the report to look at things internally.”

Olson said the department will review the report to find possible improvements in conduct or training procedures.

“There’s so much we need to do,” he said. “There’s so much we need to improve. Can we do this any better?”

The department will also work to strengthen its communication with the Somali community, Olson said. Community members met with Olson at the Brian Coyle Community Center on Saturday to discuss Jeilani’s death. Future meetings will be scheduled, Olson said.

Thursday’s decision won’t be the final legal action in response to Jeilani’s death, said Omar Jamal, executive director of the Somali Justice Advocacy Center. He said he plans to meet with lawyers next week about pursuing the case further.

“It’s not just over,” Jamal said. “We have a long way to go.”

Amy Hackbarth welcomes comments at [email protected]