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UMN, city leaders respond to Council member’s comments on Somali youth, attempts to make peace

While Ward 3 Council Member Michael Rainville has apologized for his rhetoric, some local leaders aren’t buying it.
Image by David Stager
Executive Director of the Minnesota Chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) Jaylani Hussein poses for a portrait in Minneapolis on Monday, July 25. Hussein questioned the sincerity of Ward 3 Council Member Michael Rainville’s apology for recent comments about Somali youth.

Editor’s Note: This article has been updated from its original version. 

After blaming Somali youth for violent crime over the Fourth of July weekend in Minneapolis, Ward 3 Council Member Michael Rainville faced backlash from those who said they feel they have been unjustly targeted.

Over the weekend, multiple incidents of violent crime occurred, including a shooting at Boom Island Park and people shooting fireworks at buildings and cars while driving downtown.

Rainville organized a gathering to discuss public safety on July 8 at Kramarczuk’s and expressed outrage about the violent incidents. He said he was going to go to a Northeast Minneapolis mosque to tell Somali elders “their children can no longer have that type of behavior,” according to a tweet from Wedge LIVE.

Police have not released information related to the ethnicity of the people involved in the crime from that day.

Rainville released a statement later that day apologizing for his comments. In the statement, he said he meant to communicate that “we need more support for our youth,” but acknowledged “the way I said it was not appropriate and I wrongly singled out Somali youth.”

Rainville did not respond to the Minnesota Daily’s requests for comment.

In the days following Rainville’s comments, nine council members released statements denouncing his rhetoric, using language like “racist” and “xenophobic.”

Rainville held a rally on July 9 called “Take Back the Street,” where he doubled down on his stance to toughen up on crime. At one point during his speech, he warned attendees about other attendees recording Rainville’s speech and the event.

“We are being filmed by people who don’t understand living in the violent atmosphere you have,” Rainville said during his speech. “Be aware of what you say and who you say it to.”

This rhetoric caused Executive Director of the Minnesota chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) Jaylani Hussein to question the sincerity of Rainville’s apology.

“His initial apology we accepted, welcomed,” Hussein said. “Then the night after that, he walked it back by encouraging watching what you say and actually talking about the hurt that he has caused.”

While some said Rainville should be forgiven for his comments at the meeting, others said he needs to face consequences to prevent future rhetoric that could pit people against Somali residents.

“We usually tend to point a finger at someone, say ‘that’s the problem’ without fixing the real problem,” Rep. Mohamud Noor said. “So I think that was a really big damage done, especially to the youth who are ostracized and mistreated for who they are, being Black, Muslim, immigrant.”

Hussein said CAIR has called on the city to ensure Rainville’s comments do not invigorate others to express harmful, stereotyped rhetoric in the future.

“Somali youth will be targeted by both police and by people who may call the police on them for just being Black,” Hussein said. “There are consequences to these comments that, at this point, we don’t know.”

Some politicians and activists have spoken of a possible censure of Rainville, which would mark the first time the City Council has used such an action. A censure is a formal expression of disapproval, often in the form of a resolution, explaining misconduct and action taken by council members.

Minneapolis does not have a formal censure process, but the City Council could draft a censure resolution. According to the city clerk’s office, no council members have approached them formally about crafting this yet.

Rainville met with local Somali leaders to make amends at the Dar Al-Qalam Islamic Center in Northeast Minneapolis on July 15.

Outreach coordinator for the Islamic Center Abdul Artan said Rainville fostered a strong relationship with the mosque from before he was elected to the council. He said he believed Rainville’s apology was sincere and agrees with his stance on public safety in the city.

“Mistakes will happen, and we did accept the apology in good faith,” Artan said. “We are pro-police, and numbers [of officers] should be increased … Crime has increased so we need to come back to our senses and have a normal life for everybody.”

Noor said he thinks Rainville and the rest of City Council need to focus on investing in youth to prevent crime and engaging with the people who are most impacted by violent crime to come up with solutions.

“My goal is to make sure that trust with law enforcement is built,” Noor said. “There’s been more conversation about public safety, but there’s less conversation about investment in communities that are impacted the most by crime.”

Student leaders at the University of Minnesota said anti-Somali rhetoric impacts Somali students who may feel alienated.

Government and Legislative Affairs Director for the Undergraduate Student Government Carter Yost said he hoped the University would release a statement in response to Rainville’s comments to condemn his rhetoric and show their support to Somali students.

“When people in positions of power, particularly power that’s wielded a block away from our campus, are perpetuating unfair stereotypes about already vulnerable communities, particularly in reference to young people, I think our University has some kind of responsibility to ensure that students are not harmed by that action,” Yost said.

The University did not release a statement about Rainville’s comments or their impact on Somali students prior to publishing.

The Somali Student Association released a statement following Rainville’s comments and President Abdulahi Abdalla helped organize the July 15 meeting with Rainville at the mosque.

Abdalla said he hopes people who attended the July 8 meeting do not hold or develop unfounded stereotypes about Somali people after hearing Rainville’s comments and like Noor, advocated for alternative public safety responses to address crime issues. 

Abdalla also said Rainville should continue to strengthen his relationship with the Dar Al-Qalam mosque and believes he’s taken the appropriate steps to apologize and move forward. He said he felt uncomfortable about the issue becoming politicized because many of the loudest voices speaking out against Rainville were not from or did not represent the Somali community.

“At the end of the day, we’re going to be left dealing with this political mess and dealing with the repercussions,” Abdalla said, “Whether positive or negative.”

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