REPORTER’S NOTEBOOK | Teacher’s headlock of Somali student – is this about race?


The appearance of two Youtube videos showing a teacher apparently holding a Somali student in a headlock sparked outrage in the Somali American community. The incident took place at Champlin Park High School. The first video shows a verbal altercation between two students escalating to a physical attack, and the teacher intervening; the second video shows the teacher apparently grabbing the Somali student by throat, putting him in a headlock and holding him there. 

The family has identified the Somali student as 14-year-old Camaar Abdul-Kadir.

Watching the videos, it is hard to ignore that a Somali student is on the receiving end of physical attacks from a white student and then from a white teacher. On the other hand, the videos do not provide a complete story. Many questions remain unanswered: What happened? How and why did it happen? Who provoked whom? Was the teacher’s use of force inappropriate or excessive? Were there underlying racial implications?

Earlier this week, Abdul-Kadir’s family requested an independent investigation into the altercation, with the support of Ka Joog non-profit organization, and other concerned Somali community members. The district has agreed to pursue an independent review.

Some Somali community members reported the videos to the Council on American Islamic Relations, a Muslim civil liberties and advocacy organization. In a press release sent out last week, CAIR said it welcomes the school district’s decision to launch an independent investigation.

“We are asking the school to conduct a swift, open and independent investigation into this matter,” said CAIR-MN Executive Director Lori Saroya. “A determination must be made as to whether the teacher followed protocol and if he used excessive force during this violent altercation.” Saroya said that Minnesota law states that any “unreasonable interference with a child’s breathing” cannot be considered reasonable force.

Saroya forwarded me an email CAIR received on May 29 from a school district legal representative, which says:  

As I mentioned further to you, the district was not aware of the video until the end of last week. As a result of this new information, the district is pursuing an independent review of the incident. As I am sure you can appreciate, videos are subject to editing. Our investigation has filled in many details that the video does not show or tell. Video’s can be very damaging when they do not tell a complete story.  The district is working and communicating directly with the family and will continue to work with outside community groups to ensure students and families feel safe and welcome in our schools.”

I am working on this story and am looking for people who have more information and are willing to talk about it — the Abdul-Kadir family, students at Champlin Park High School, concerned Somali American community members, and any other relevant information. If you have any information, please contact me at