Groups dispute facts of incident at Somali Student Association event

The University police told a different story of Friday night’s events at Northrop than members of the student group.

The Minneapolis Police Department and University of Minnesota Police Department responded to a disturbance at Northrop following the Somali Student Association's Somali Night 2018 event on Friday, April 20.

Ellen Schmidt

The Minneapolis Police Department and University of Minnesota Police Department responded to a disturbance at Northrop following the Somali Student Association’s Somali Night 2018 event on Friday, April 20.

Kelly Busche and Madeline Deninger

After police were called to a Friday night event hosted by the Somali Student Association at Northrop auditorium, the two groups are disputing the facts of the event.

University officials say police officers were called to a disruption at SSA’s Somali Night, while SSA members say police presence was unwarranted. 

MPD spokesperson John Elder said MPD, who were called in to assist UMPD, made two arrests for misdemeanor obstruction. 

According to a statement from SSA, police officers “physically assaulted” SSA board members and used “excessive force” to remove attendees.

“During the event, a fight broke out between attendees in the lobby and UMPD were called to resolve the situation, but the event was able to continue,” University spokesperson Lacey Nygard said. 

UMPD’s account “does not make sense,” SSA’s statement read. The SSA said “two, three-minute fights” broke out after the event, and at least six police cars were located near Northrop’s entrance approximately 12 minutes after the event ended.

According to the statement from SSA, police were called to Northrop before any disruptions occurred.

UMPD officers present at Northrop couldn’t stop a fight between a group of approximately “30 to 40 youth,” according to a statement from UMPD Chief Matt Clark. The escalating assaults — people were assaulted and one robbery occurred — caused them to seek additional assistance from nearby officers, the statement read.

The continuing fights “spilled” into campus areas surrounding Northrop, according to Clark’s statement. “Chemical irritant” and “minimal force” were used by police to end the “violence” and separate the groups.

According to SSA’s statement, police rushed the building as attendees mingled after the event, and removed attendees from the building in a “confusing, violent and dehumanizing” manner. They then formed barricades with bicycles as attendees left, which blocked re-entry.

“Had the attendees been treated the same as any audience Northrop hosts instead of as cattle and allowed to exit the venue at a normal pace, a night of celebration wouldn’t have ended in brutality,” the statement read.

Police maced attendees, closed nearby parking garage access and pushed attendees to the ground with bicycles and batons, SSA’s statement read.

“Children were so negatively affected by the mace that they ended up vomiting,” the statement read.

A “small” number of UMPD officers were present at Northrop, which was University protocol for large events, a statement from Clark read.

Around 20 police cars were present at the scene. 

“It appeared that the police were called to the scene in advance of any disruptions,” SSA’s statement read.

Somali Night is an annual celebration of Somali culture and marks the end of the student organization’s Somali Culture Week initiatives. This year’s event marked SSA’s 20th year on campus. Over 150 people said they were attending, according to the event’s Facebook page.

“It’s unfortunate that a small group of attendees negatively impacted a normally positive cultural event,” Clark’s statement read.

Carter Blochwitz and Ellen Schmidt contributed to this report.