Minneapolis Somali community shocked by police killing , worried about backlash

When Mohamed Noor was assigned to patrol the Minneapolis Police Department’s fifth district last May, the news was met with nearly ubiquitous acclaim from both the city’s Somali community and from local officials.

Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges wrote on Facebook that Noor’s appointment to the large and ethnically diverse district south of downtown was “a wonderful sign of building trust and community policing at work” and dozens of Somali-Americans showed up the Karmel mall to shake the officer’s hand.

Now 14 months later – and just days after Noor shot and killed 40-year-old Justine Damond Saturday night in an alley of one of the city’s leafy neighborhoods – the mayor is calling on the police officer to speak out about the incident and the mood at the Karmel mall is less jubilant.

“He’s a well-known man in the Somali community, he was well-respected,” Ali Hassan, a Somali-American who owns a popular café in the mall, told Fox News. “It’s heartbreaking news and has really affected the Somali community.”

Noor, who has only been on the force for two years, and his partner, Matthew Harrity, arrived in the alley late Saturday night after Damond called 911 to report an alleged sexual assault. Transcripts of 911 calls that were made public Wednesday show Damond called dispatchers twice to report the possible sexual assault in the alley behind her home.

Harrity told state investigators that the police officers heard a loud bang when they arrived in the alley. Harrity added that Damond appeared at the driver's side window "immediately afterward" and Noor fired, striking her in the abdomen. She died at the scene.

While the killing has rocked the city still grappling with a string of police-related killings over the past couple years, it has also sown concern among some in Minneapolis’ large Somali community that there may be a backlash against them or more incidents of Islamophobia.

“I’ve already received some random emails and phone calls from people threatening me following the shooting,” Mohamud Noor, the director of the Confederation of Somali Community in Minnesota (CSCM) and a candidate for city council, told Fox News.  “I don’t think the threats are coming from people in Minnesota, but we are still getting them.”

Noor is not related to the police officer involved in the shooting, but said that he has met him before at various events.

Minneapolis and neighboring St. Paul are home to the largest Somali population in North America, with an estimated 25,000 living in Minnesota and Somalis owning hundreds of businesses across the Twin Cities metropolitan area.

Somalis first began to immigrate to Minnesota in the 1980s to attend some of the numerous colleges that dot the Twin Cities, but migration picked up in the 1990s during the brutal civil war that engulfed the East African nation during that decade. The ongoing conflicts in Somalia and its fragile political situation continue to drive many people to flee to the U.S.

Despite many Somalis and others Minneapolis residents saying that relations between the community and the city as a whole are in large part positive, there have been incidents of hate crimes and violence. This has created some feelings of frustration in the Somali community directed toward the police force.

Critics accused Minneapolis police officers of using excessive force in 2002 when they fatally shot a machete-wielding Somali man, who was allegedly mentally ill and did not understand English well. The community has also criticized the allegedly harsh tactics employed by federal prosecutors against young Somali men accused of trying to join overseas terrorist organizations.

There is also resentment toward a police department on the part of the greater African-American community due to the spate of recent police-related killings.

Last year, 32-year-old Philando Castile was killed by an officer during a traffic stop in a nearby suburb after he told the officer he was armed. The officer was acquitted in June of manslaughter and other charges. In November 2015, a Minneapolis police officer shot and killed Jamar Clark during a struggle in which the officer said Clark grabbed his partner's weapon.

“There is a lot of anger out there right now. Anytime something happens with ISIS or Al-Shabaab, the Somalis get blamed,” Abdirizak Bihi, a Somali community activist, told Fox News. “They feel victimized.”

Besides their regular duties, Noor – and the dozen or so other Somali-American police officers in Minneapolis - were meant to be a bridge between the community and the police force.

While almost everyone from Minneapolis’ Somali community that Fox News spoke with described Noor in a positive light – using phrases like “great guy” and “good example” - and expressed shock in the killing, they also said that the issue at hand is not about Noor being Somali but about policing.

“I always welcome the police looking like the people they serve, but that is not going to solve the problem,” Noor, the director of CSCM, said. “Right now the feeling is that if you call the cops you don’t know if they are going to shoot you.”