Somali community leaders in Minnesota have recently agreed to form a working group that will engage with law enforcement agencies in an effort to reduce negative perceptions of both sides, promote better relationship with each other and rally this state’s new citizens to understand they are part of the wider American public where communities are not suspects of crimes committed by individuals.
The mistrust between this community and the U. S. Law Enforcement departments has been a tough challenge for everybody until January this year when the Department of Homeland Security held the first meeting of roundtable discussions in Minneapolis.
The executive director of Somali Action Alliance, Hashi Shafi who describes that doubt as a barrier to peaceful coexistence said that it is important to engage direct talks that might lead to solutions.
“The Law Enforcement are not here to harm anybody, they are here to protect the people. We want our community to understand their role and the reason we have them in this system” he said.
“It’s important for this community to see themselves as part of the U. S. public.”
Somali Action Alliance will convene sessions of the working group early December to explore engagement strategies, ongoing direct dialogue with law enforcement partners and create platforms to share information.
Shafi said the outreach of the community and their partners has worked in Minnesota successfully. He hopes a replica of this strategy might also work in major cities in Ohio and Washington State which have growing Somali-American population.
Law enforcement officials from the Metro area who attended the round table discussion on community policing included U. S. Attorney of District of Minnesota, B. Todd Jones, and representatives of the Hennepin County Sheriff department, National Counter Terrorism Centre and FBI. The meeting reported that crimes went down and community satisfaction has significantly increased after months of talks.
Abdirizak Farah, a policy advisor with the Department of Homeland Security, Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties said communities are an essential part of the solution and the government does not see them as a problem.
Abddul Kheyre, a Somali-American who represented small business owners at the meeting told community leaders and officials that Islamic centers and the media might be able to counter distrust if they are engaged positively.
“If an incident happens here or elsewhere, the media generalizes the problem in a way that suggests it has been committed by Muslims or Somalis. If you generalize, everybody thinks that they are included.”
Dar Al-Hijrah Islamic Center director, Sheikh Abdisalam Adan said the level of acceptance between the community and others has been minimal. He said improving relationships is vital.
“The narrative that Muslims are under siege has to be defeated,” Adan said.
The director of Da’wa Islamic Centre, Sheikh Hassan Mohamud whose mosque is building relationship between mainstream U. S. and Somali youth said there is need of being proactive to respond to security issues concerning the community and the country as a whole instead of reacting to a situation.
In the campaign to bridge the gap, women leaders including Hodan Hassan, a senior community health worker at Hennepin County Human Services Department suggested reaching out to sections of the community, including women and youth who are isolated and most vulnerable and through a curriculum that can be delivered in a unified way by mosques and social centers.
Nimco Ahmed, a community activist and policy aide with the Minneapolis City Council, told the conference that the message of those pushing negative images of the community are less than 1 percent of the society. She said the only way to counter this is to encourage positive forces building better community.
Rotating quarterly meetings by Department of Homeland Security’s Civil Rights and Civil liberties and Somali community organizations have in two years brought together law enforcement officials, youth and community leaders to openly discuss challenges facing them and to dislodge the culture of fear.