Contrary to previous reports, murder victim Muhdin Yahye Mumin was a well-respected member of his community in Rochester, Minnesota. The 42-year-old Mumin was found dead in an alley near a Rochester nightclub last October 1. Joshua Dean Lee and Adam Ross Brandrup, both 25 years old, have been charged with second-degree unintentional murder, accused of beating Mumin but not intending to kill him.
According to initial reports by the Rochester Police Department, Mumin was listed without a permanent address. As a result, the city’s newspaper inferred that the victim, who worked as a care provider for the elderly, was homeless. Those who knew him know better.
“He was really proud to be part of this community,” claims Metro Area Care Providers Regional Manager Sheik Nor Qassim, who was Mumin’s former brother-in-law. He firmly disputes the homeless tag, saying that Mumin often stayed with the elderly people he cared for and adding that he was thoroughly impressed with Mumin’s ability to work with elderly clients of all ethnicities.
“[Mumin] was the kind of guy who would work eight hours, but would like to work 15 hours volunteering for the elderly. He was a giving guy.”
“He was a good man,” concurs local realtor Mohamed Nur of Mumin.
Mumin “was a decent guy,” recalls community organizer Abdifatah Abdinur.
On the night of his death, Mumin was at a local Rochester nightclub where a fight broke out between Somali and White patrons, but he was not involved in the incident. “Unfortunately, he was in the wrong place at the wrong time,” observes Nor Qassim of Mumin; he allegedly was beaten in an alley near the club by Lee and Brandup, who worked there as bouncers.
“He got beat up and killed only because of the color of his skin,” believes Abdinur. “It was absolutely a hate crime.”
Mumin’s death has conjured up painful memories among many longtime Somali residents: Violence has flared up between the Somali community and the greater community in Rochester dating as far back as 1991, when Somalis first began moving to the city to escape a Somalia civil war.
“There was a lot of resistance from some parts of the community,” explains Mohamoud Hamud, who has lived in Rochester since 1994. Somali youngsters usually seemed to get the worse of it, Hamud recalls.
“When you are called ‘ni**er’ in your face and you don’t know what that means, you just smile. After someone explains to you what it meant, then you become furious and then fight.
“That is the disconnect between living in the United States and living in Somalia,” Hamud continues. “In Somalia, you are taught to defend yourself — don’t let anyone push you off. Then you come here and it is the opposite; if someone tries to fight you, you run away from it. It is very difficult for kids to reconcile between the two.”
Also during that time, a group of White youth loosely called the “All-American Boys” became a gang and continued to fuel racial tension by fighting Somalis.
“It was really a hard time,” Khader Nur Abdullahi recalls. “I was an A-B student when I came from Virginia [in 1995]. But I couldn’t focus on my work; every time I was going to school, it was like going to war, because there would be fights.
As soon as you step outside, there would be some confrontation.” This eventually prompted Nur Abdullahi “to join other groups or gangs that came together so I could stay protected.”
Some believe that Lee and Brandup were members of the Boys gang, but Hamada Wallin, who attended the same high school, says he didn’t witness such behavior from the two men.
“Growing up, I never had any problems with them,” notes Wallin, now 26. “In my eyes, they weren’t racist.” But he does agree that “There were times when the [racial] tensions were high.”
When he first learned of Mumin’s death, Wallin says, “I was shocked at what happened that night, and I was even more shocked when I found out that it was racially motivated.”
Shortly after Mumin’s death, a Black man from Rochester who claimed to be friends with Lee and Brandup created an online forum supporting the two White defendants. Over 530 persons supposedly signed up, which angered many Somalis.
“None of the groups were talking about the dead guy,” says Hamud sadly.
“Instead, they were talking about how to defend these two guys who were caught.”
“It is very frustrating in our community,” adds Abdinur. “All the love and support the victim is supposed to have, but in this case the killers are getting [it].”
“Sometimes I question myself,” says Nor Qassim: “If one or two Somali or Black guys kill a White man in an alley, can they be out [of jail, like the accused killers of Mumin]?”
Although the case still is pending and has not gone to trial, many Somali residents believe that ultimately nothing will happen, or that some type of plea bargain agreements are being worked out for the defendants.
“There have been no plea bargain negotiations of any sort,” Olmsted County Attorney Mark Ostrem told the MSR last week, adding that Brandup (on May 21) and Lee (sometime next month) are both scheduled to appear in court for procedural hearings.
Hamud suspects that stalling tactics may also be in play. “They [the defendants] are trying to say that he [Mumin] did not die [from] the beating, and that his body was buried before [authorities] had a chance to [do] an autopsy. The coroner already described what the cause of death was.” Hamud believes that racial tension in Rochester has never disappeared or been adequately addressed, but rather just stays simmering under the surface.
Nor Qassim said, “This [Olmsted] county likes to do things their own way. They also like to protect the reputation of the city… They don’t like to admit that they are having problems.”
Finally, Abdinur added that he is afraid that if justice isn’t served in the Mumin case, some young Somalis may retaliate. “No one needs to take justice in their hands — that’s the last thing we want to do,” he emphasizes. “We are telling our younger brothers to trust the system.”
“Justice has to be served,” Nor Qassim concludes.
Next week: Key Rochester officials share their views on the murder case and the general state of relations between the Somali community and the larger community.
Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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