For Sumaya Aden, the demand that officials reopen the case of her brother Isak, killed a year ago by police in Eagan, the commemoration of Somali Independence Day and the Black Lives Matter movement all are part of the same struggle for unity and justice.
On Wednesday evening, the eve of the 23-year-old Somali-American’s death, his sister led about 150 protesters from the Eagan Outlet Mall, shutting down traffic on Highway 13, to the site of his death. The march also honored the 60th year of Somalia’s independence.
The protestors demanded Isak’s case be reopened, after the Dakota County Attorney James Backstrom said in November that the police were justified in using deadly force.
On Thursday, lawyers for Isak’s family filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the cities of Bloomington, Burnsville, Eagan and Edina as well as the police officers directly involved in the incident, calling it “another tragic display of an over-aggressive, over-militarized police response to a Black man.”
Like many of the protesters, Sumaya wore an orange t-shirt with gray sweatpants — the outfit Isak was wearing when he died.
“Whether we’re fighting back home in Somalia, fighting in Eagan, Minnesota,” Sumaya said in an interview with Sahan Journal, “after 60 years of independence in Somalia, we still continue to fight — not only for us, but for the larger community that we’re in.”
Cheers erupted among protesters at a public sidewalk near the mall after Sumaya acknowledged Somalia’s Independence Day. Before the march began, the Somali national anthem was played from a Subaru leading protesters, while the Somali attendees sang along. “Sing it with your chest,” Sumaya told the protesters.
“I wanted this to be, honestly, a day of unity and to honor our ancestors and the strength and resiliency they left us with,” Sumaya said.
At this time in prior years, the Somali Independence Day festival is usually held on Lake Street. But since the area was badly affected by the protests for George Floyd, Sumaya said she instead wanted to hold a rally in Eagan to recognize the resilience of Somali youth fighting for the Black Lives Matter movement.
“I’ve seen the Somali youth firsthand at the front lines for George Floyd and for my brother,” Sumaya said. “I want to give the youth that have been at the forefront of this a platform.”
“We’re not the only ones traumatized by this,” Sumaya said about her family. “[The Somali] community has been affected by this and our voices have been drowned out.”
An organizer from the Minnesota Immigrants Rights Action Committee who is originally from Kenya, also spoke at the protest.
“I’m a fellow East African and I think it’s really important for East Africans to come together,” said the organizer, who was identified only by her first name, Daisy. “And I’m so happy that we’re in the suburbs and we’re going to disrupt suburban lives.”
The rally was meant to highlight disparate police violence in the suburbs, in solidarity with south Minneapolis’ Lake Street community, Sumaya said.
“Now that George Floyd’s case is bringing light to a lot of other cases,” Sumaya said, “we’ve seen so many other cases get reopened because of public pressure.”
Sumaya began seeking justice for her brother immediately after he died. She said she’s continuously been in “fight mode” the entire year.
Isak was shot and killed by Bloomington police last July after a dispute with his ex-girlfriend, who called 911 when she saw Isak was carrying a gun.
Isak was sitting on a sidewalk while he spoke with a police negotiator over the phone. They shot three flashbangs and six non-lethal rounds at Isak. After he reached for his gun, which sat about 18 inches away, the police shot and killed Isak with 11 bullets and two sniper rounds.
Despite the fact that her family has not been able to fully process the death of Isak, Sumaya said that has pushed her to show support for other families who have lost loved ones to police violence — many of whom attended and spoke at the protest.
“I’ve gotten the support that I’ve given out in return from people in the movement,” Sumaya said.
When the protesters arrived at the spot where Isak was shot and killed on Seneca Road, Sumaya pointed at the bullet holes still left behind on the side of a nearby building. She promised the group she wouldn’t cry.
“No matter how much paint you put on, no matter how much spackle you use, these bullet holes are still here,” Sumaya said. “This city has blood on its hands, and there’s no way you can cover it up.”
Hibah Ansari is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms.