‘Gently into the reach of the night’: Part one

EDITORâÄôS NOTE: This is the first in a three-part series examining violence in the Somali community âÄî the cause, the effect and the response. Less than a half-mile from the UniversityâÄôs West Bank campus last Monday, Ahmednur Ali, an Augsburg College student and tutor at the Cedar-Riverside neighborhoodâÄôs Brian Coyle Center, was shot to death. For about two hours, police left his body uncovered on the street as a crowd gathered in the largely East African neighborhood. Elders in the Somali community asked that his face be covered in accordance with their religious practices, while police insisted that any cover could destroy possible forensic evidence. In a forum held that Thursday, law enforcement officials urged witnesses in the death to come forward, while Somali youth, including University students, voiced outrage about yet another Somali manâÄôs murder in the Twin Cities, one of six since December. The five murders in Minneapolis represent about 14 percent of the cityâÄôs murders since December. On Monday, the same day another Somali man was killed in South Minneapolis, police arrested a 16-year-old boy in connection with AliâÄôs death. The other five murders remain unsolved. Omar Jamal, director of the Somali Justice Advocacy Center, which provides legal assistance to the community and deals with law enforcement, said surrounding communities should care. âÄúIf the students at the West Bank of the U of M act as if this is business as usual, then theyâÄôre not paying enough attention,âÄù Jamal said. âÄúThese people are going through hell.âÄù Effects on the Community The violence has left members of the Somali community, which numbers around 50,000 in Minnesota, panicked and frustrated, Shukri Adan, the author of a 2007 report on Somali youth issues for the Minneapolis Department of Civil Rights, said. MinneapolisâÄô Somali population is densely concentrated in and around the 1,300 units of Riverside Plaza, which sits across from the Brian Coyle Community Center. Much of the violence stems from gangs of Somali youth centered in Cedar-Riverside that have only recently started targeting people of Somali descent who arenâÄôt involved in gangs; like Ali and youth mentor Mohamed Muse Jama, 31, who was killed in June in Brooklyn Center. âÄúNow theyâÄôre killing the good kids,âÄù she said. âÄúItâÄôs getting to the point where âÄòit might be my kid next.âÄô ThereâÄôs panic.âÄù Community Center Meant to provide services to nearby residents, the Brian Coyle Center itself has become a hotbed of gang activity, Jamal said. It serves as a place for them to organize crimes, talk and recruit, he said. âÄúThe community would be much better if Brian Coyle Center would not be there,âÄù he said. âÄúItâÄôs nothing more than trouble.âÄù With a skeptical eye on the center, some parents are keeping their kids away for fear of criminal activities nearby. Sitting at a Columbia Heights hookah bar with friends including the brother of victim Ahmednur Ali, Yusuf Ali, who is not related to the victim, expressed discontent with the center. âÄúImproving a life is nothing if you cannot save one,âÄù he said. But center director Jennifer Blevins said the issues are more complex. âÄúAs everyone in the community is trying to define what the problem is, weâÄôve heard the whole circle of blame,âÄù she said. Still, last weekâÄôs murder hastened and bolstered the centerâÄôs plans to install surveillance cameras and station security officers there. And inside the center these days, âÄúreally good kidsâÄù express fear. âÄúTheyâÄôre worried about, with the growing violence, about who it might be next,âÄù Blevins said. âÄúThereâÄôs a high level of stress among the youth.âÄù Blevins attributed much of the violent crime to wayward young people, but said she doesnâÄôt see many of them around the center. âÄúThe sad thing about the situation is that it doesnâÄôt take very many kids to be running around with guns to make really bad decisions and change peopleâÄôs lives forever, including their own,âÄù she said. The CommunityâÄôs Reputation University psychology sophomore and Somali Student Association member Salma Hussein, who has tutored students at the Brian Coyle Center since 2003, said the media contributes to the violence problem by only covering the Somali community when something bad happens. âÄúA lot of Minneapolis has this impression that Somalis are just violent people,âÄù Hussein said. âÄúCedar-Riverside is filled with families trying to raise their kids.âÄù Hussein said tutors from the University received an e-mail warning them about violence in the neighborhood, allowing them to opt out, which wouldâÄôve removed an important educational resource from the communityâÄôs youth. The gangs use violence to deliver the message that they control the neighborhoods, report author Adan said, and there have been rumors in the community that theyâÄôve started shaking down Somali businesses. âÄúItâÄôs tense, itâÄôs terrible, theyâÄôre holding the community hostage,âÄù Adan said. âÄúThereâÄôs an economic downturn issue even, from this gang activity.âÄù The Somali community is angry and frustrated at recent violence, Adan said, reminiscent of the violence they fled from in Somalia. âÄúEvery immigrant group goes through growing pains,âÄù she said. âÄúBut we didnâÄôt have this situation when we landed, so I know something went horribly wrong.âÄù Community members will merely continue to live through the problems, Jamal said, though many will slowly disappear back to Somalia or simply away from Cedar-Riverside. Wherever they go, he said, theyâÄôll take their pain with them. âÄúThereâÄôs nothing much the community can do,âÄù Jamal said. âÄúThey can just go gently into the reach of the night.âÄù Read part two by clicking here.