Monday, July 20, 2009

Somali street gangs in Minnesota

Over 32,000 ex-Somalis have settled into the state of Minnesota. While many flourish with their new lives in America, some young Somali have formed street gangs. The violence amongst the street gangs is on the rise, and has drawn some attention in the national press with the gang killing of Ahmednur Ali who was a student and youth volunteer.

From this Associated Press story that we found at CBS News, a Somali community organizer reacts to the crime.

"It was all gang activity, totally, 100 percent," said Shukri Adan, a former Somali community organizer who estimated in a 2007 report for the city that between 400 and 500 young Somalis were active in gangs. "The police don't want to say that but everybody else knows that."

Despite anger and despair over the killings in Minnesota's Somali community - the nation's largest - police and prosecutors have struggled to catch and try the killers. Few witnesses have stepped forward because of a fear of reprisal and deep-rooted distrust of authority. More than half of Minnesota's Somalis are living in poverty, according to state statistics, and many complain that authorities are biased against Somalis because of their Islamic faith.

Last month, prosecutors dropped the murder charge against the teenage boy in Ali's case after one witness backed out and another apparently fled the state.

Gangs like the Somali Hot Boyz, the Somali Mafia and Madhibaan with Attitude have grown more active in recent years, said Jeanine Brudenell, the Minneapolis Police Department's Somali liaison officer.

The recent spate of killings started in December 2007, when two Somali men, ages 27 and 25, were found shot to death at a south Minneapolis home. No arrests have been made in that case.

They culminated last September, when a man was fatally shot outside of the Village Market Mall, a cluster of Somali-owned businesses and a popular destination for local Somalis. Investigators believe the shooter was retaliating for the death of his cousin, one of the other slain Somalis. The mall shooting was the only of the seven slayings for which anyone was convicted - 23-year-old Hassan Mohamed Abdillahi.

A gang expert in California said economic and social factors are more likely to blame for the spike in gang activity than any spillover of violence from war-ravaged Somalia.

"When there's unemployment and poverty and lack of external support, there's gangs," said Jorja Leap, a social welfare professor at the University of California Los Angeles and former gang adviser to the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department.

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