Groups react to police shooting of Somali man

Amy Hackbarth

Several community and activist groups expressed outrage Monday after Minneapolis police officers shot dead a 28-year-old Somali man Sunday.

Abu Kassim Jeilani was wielding a machete and a crowbar at the time of the shooting, which occurred at the intersection of Chicago and Franklin avenues.

More than 50 people gathered at the site of the incident Monday morning to talk about the shooting and to honor Jeilani.

“The community is angry,” said Michelle Gross, treasurer of Communities United Against Police Brutality. “It was broad daylight, and there were plenty of people around who could have helped.”

Police said an officer found Jeilani walking with the weapons at approximately 2 p.m. Jeilani didn’t respond to officers’ attempts at conversation, and police said when officers shocked Jeilani with stun guns – immobilizing electronic weapons – he was unaffected.

When officers thought Jeilani was charging them, they opened fire, police said. The officers shot Jeilani at least 16 times, Somali community leaders said.

The officers have been criticized for their interaction with Jeilani, who had a reported history of mental illness. He had recently been released from the hospital for treatment for mental problems, said Hassan Mohamud of the Legal Aid Society of Minneapolis.

Jeilani was apparently unaware of those around him, witnesses said.

“He just kept saying ‘Allahu akbar, Allahu akbar’ over and over again,” said Rahma Ali, who saw the incident and knew the man. She and others on the scene translated Jeilani’s words to mean “God is great.”

Witness Dendell Holley said Jeilani was holding the machete at his side as he walked and wasn’t threatening passers-by. However, when Jeilani walked past a bus stop where Holley was waiting, he hit a police car with the machete, Holley said.

Officers jumped out of the car and urged the man to put the weapons down before they used stun guns.

Circled by police officers, Jeilani raised the machete and repeated the phrase “Allahu akbar” once more before police shot him.

Mohamud said police should have used neighborhood sources, such as the three neighborhood centers and two mosques in the area, to reach Jeilani.

“What they could have done is instead of chasing him, they could have called a neighbor,” he said.

Minneapolis police Chief Robert Olson said the six officers who fired on Jeilani appeared to have followed proper procedures. Two of those involved were members of a team specifically trained to deal with the mentally ill.

Gross said many Somalis have felt strained since Sept. 11, which she said prompted a disturbing, violent trend of discrimination toward the Somali community.

The Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office will conduct an independent investigation of the incident, which is protocol when police are involved in a shooting.

“It’s very important that an investigation like this maintains the highest integrity,” said Roseann Campagnoli, public information officer for the sheriff’s office.

Gross, however, said she doesn’t trust the sheriff’s office to conduct an objective investigation.

“Trusting the sheriff is like trusting a fox in a chicken house,” she said.

Both the Somali Justice Advocacy Center and Communities United Against Police Brutality are calling for the dismissal of Olson, who they say has a tendency toward police brutality.

“He sets a tone of permissiveness for police brutality,” Gross said.

Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak met privately with Somali leaders Monday to hear concerns.

Community members will hold a rally later this month to remember Jeilani’s death, Gross said. The groups also hope to start another investigation independent of the sheriff’s office.

“I think the police think they’re going to get away with this,” she said. “But this time I’m not sure they’ll be able to.”

– Joanna Dornfeld and
The Associated Press
contributed to this report.

Amy Hackbarth welcomes comments at [email protected]