Somali residents concerned, not surprised by vandalismby Ambar Espinoza, Minnesota Public Radio
Collegeville, Minn. — Some Somali residents in St. Cloud say they're concerned - but not surprised - by the latest in a series of acts targeting Somalis in the city.
Last week, someone vandalized a Somali-owned grocery store, Hormud Meat & Grocery Market, spray-painting "GO HOME" in large red letters on the building. St. Cloud police don't have any leads in the case.
Other Somali entrepreneurs and residents say the sentiment isn't new. Several Somali residents say when Somalis first began to settle in St. Cloud nearly ten years ago, one of the first Somali-owned businesses was also tagged with a similar "go home" message.
These residents said they still occasionally hear this message from people who yell "go home," or "go back to your country," when Somalis are driving or walking around the city.
Tohow Siyad, owner of Mogadishu Meat & Grocery and St. Cloud Meat & Grocery, said he's upset about these incidents, and confused by the "go home" message.
"They forget we are all immigrants here," Siyad said about the individual who vandalized Hormud Market and others who've written similar messages on other Somali-owned businesses in the past. "Our home is here."
Siyad said he's been heartened by some white residents in the community who have apologized on behalf of those acting out against Somali and Muslim residents, and have told him those incidents don't reflect the disposition of the entire St. Cloud community.
Abdi Abukar, who owns the restaurant Somali Cafe, said someone threw a rock into his business last November and broke a window. Abukar reported it to the police, but no one was ever identified.
Two broken windows have also been reported at the city's only mosque, the Islamic Center of St. Cloud. Leaders at the mosque reported the first broken window to police on April 1, and the most recent one on June 30.
Local police said the first window appeared to have been broken by a rock, because the window has a 2- to 3-inch hole "spidering away from the glass." Police have no leads on that particular incident, but they did make an arrest in the case of the second broken window.
In that case, a security guard working for a construction project next to the mosque observed two men walking in the area with a stick. One of them approached the mosque and smashed a window. Police arrested one of the two men, 22-year-old Alexander Kilpatrick. Police Lt. Jerry Edblad said Kilpatrick was booked on misdemeanor criminal damages to property. He could be charged with a gross misdemeanor if the cost to replace the window exceeds $1,000.
Edblad said police do not know the intention behind the vandalism. He said this kind of vandalism is quite common in the neighborhood, because many intoxicated students move through the area each night. The mosque is located near downtown St. Cloud, and a few blocks from St. Cloud State University. Police are still trying to track down the other man who was with Kilpatrick.
INCIDENTS PART OF A TREND
The "go home" graffiti follows several other recent incidents that appeared to target Muslims in the city.
In December, a man posted cartoons with offensive depictions of the Prophet Muhammad on telephone poles near the mosque and a Somali-owned business. Police identified the man, but Stearns and Benton county attorneys determined that the images were protected under free speech and didn't prosecute him.
In March, a local pastor posted a paid ad in the St. Cloud Times questioning whether Islam threatens America.
In May, the U.S. Department of Education announced it would investigate the St. Cloud public school district over allegations that the district largely ignored racial harassment toward Somali high school students.
Also in April, a man from New Hope pleaded guilty to posting threats to hurt Somalis at a cultural dance at St. Cloud State University.
Several Somali residents said it's important to bring attention to these incidents, even though a minority of St. Cloud residents is behind them. One resident compared the situation to a small fire in the woods - if it's not put out immediately, it could grow and cause a lot of damage.
EDITOR'S NOTE: An earlier version of this story reported that the Department of Education announced its investigation in April. They did not make the announcement until May.
- Morning Edition, 07/14/2010, 8:45 a.m.