Hassanen Mohamed of Brooklyn Park has started to spend long nights circling one square block in Dinkytown, the commercial core of the University of Minnesota, where teens armed with Roman candles descend each weekend to battle each other in the streets.
Many of the kids who have been cited for causing havoc since the end of school hail from the suburbs, Minneapolis police told aggravated parents several weeks ago. They rev their cars loudly beneath high-rise apartments until the early hours of the morning. Police have stationed a camera at the intersection of 4th Street and 13th Avenue SE., the center of the fireworks battles, but it’s no deterrence.
Mohamed is a father of five—one in basic military training in Texas and four younger ones at home—and the leader of a volunteer effort trying to reach the teens on the streets. He cheerfully greets in Somali the boys who wander aimlessly among the closed businesses, clearly too young to be U students, slinging his arm over their shoulders as he encourages them to go home.
Their parents are exhausted worrying over problem teens who disappear for days only to wind up in viral social media videos, Mohamed said. A Brooklyn Park mom called him crying after her 17-year-old had multiple fingers amputated when a firework exploded in his hand, but the teen returned to Dinkytown as soon as he got out of the hospital. He was recently caught in a video on the CrimeWatchMpls Twitter, whose followers include relentless bashers of Minneapolis and Somali Americans.
“[Somali leaders] can get access to the community that cops can’t,” Mohamed said. “So I started talking to people on social media. I said listen, I’m doing this myself.”
Last Saturday, a group of religious leaders joined Mohamed on the streets of Dinkytown, sending teens, who did not want to be caught on livestreams disobeying imams, running home.
“Our effort has worked in a way because the crowd has become less,” said Sheikh Yusuf Abdulle, head of the Islamic Association of North America, whom Minneapolis police called to help keep the peace in Dinkytown about two months ago. “They’re so respectful to us imams when they see us and listen when we talk to them.”
While some of the teens have pledged to stay away from the area, others have been more stubborn, Abdulle acknowledged. He and other religious leaders are organizing a meeting with their parents in the coming weeks.
“We do a lot of outreach, but this is not a permanent solution,” Abdulle said. “We need to keep these young people busy with activities that can be very beneficial to them.”
On Monday night, Hennepin County Commissioner Jeffrey Lundewalked with Mohamed. Things were muggy and quiet, with much activity concentrated downtown and at Boom Island for the “Red, White and Boom” laser show.
Graduate students Suleiman Adan and Muadh Mohamed recognized the volunteers in the street and thanked them.
“I’m very involved in our local mosque,” Adan said. “It feels like they’ve exhausted their efforts, our elders. They’re inside talking to the parents for them to talk to their kids, but what [Mohamed] is doing—the mobilizing, the organizing, the patrolling—that piece was missing.”
About a week ago, Haji Yusuf of the HajiDaily TikTok walked Dinkytown with Mohamed and interviewed a young troublemaker who referred to himself and his friends as the “Dinky Demons.”
“Question. Why do all the kids that look like us all come out here and do crazy stuff?” Haji asked the teen, who is blurred in the video.
“We just do it for the excitement,” he said.
Police will sometimes close streets to block would-be drag racers, but their presence was scarce Monday night. At 11 p.m., people in a black car chucked a firecracker at others lined up outside Insomnia Cookies before speeding away. Teens started to appear in larger groups.
At one point Mohamed intercepted a band of teens who said they just graduated from Eagan High. He chatted them up about whether they would participate in a late-night soccer league if it were offered. The group burgeoned to 20.
A handful of young men in their early 20s wearing thobes—traditional ankle-length Islamic clothing—dropped in suddenly and started ministering to the teens.
“You guys want to go to paradise, look at your actions right now,” said Hassan Mohamud, 25. “Everybody go home to your parents!”
Just then a car zoomed by and broke up the crowd with fireworks, filling the sidewalk with smoke and the stench of sulfur.
At 1 a.m., a group of five boys wearing black medical masks parked behind Arvonne Fraser Library and crossed the street to Frank and Andrea’s Pizza with quivers of fireworks slung across their chests. They fired them at the restaurant and the apartments above. Then they aimed at another group of young people who dodged the sparks, laughing.
Mohamed tried to chase them down. But these teens paid no attention.
“Now the street belongs to them,” he said, visibly disappointed. “It’s over.”
Staff writer Faiza Mahamud contributed to this report.