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On Wednesday, December 30, 2020, another Black man was killed by Minneapolis police. Dolal Idd, a 23-year-old Somali American, was shot during a traffic stop. Although many questions still don’t have answers, police said in a statement that they conducted the traffic stop as part of a weapons investigation. After mounting criticism from the community, the law enforcement agencies involved released videos in an attempt to clear themselves of any wrongdoing.
Yet the entire ordeal, from the killing of Dolal at a gas station in south Minneapolis to the subsequent raid at the Dolal family home in Eden Prairie by the Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office, were painful to watch and should shake the conscience of all communities. I cannot even imagine the family’s state of mind during these traumatic events.
Many news media outlets have highlighted the fact that this was the first police killing in the city since that of George Floyd in May. What are they saying? That Minneapolis police have refrained from engaging in recurrent killings? We cannot dismiss our growing concern over the racial disparity in fatal officer-involved shootings in Minnesota and America at large.
In this most recent fatal shooting, some argue that Dolal caused his own death because he fired first, and the police responded by upholding their duty to mitigate. Phillipe Cunningham, one of the three Minneapolis city council members who proposed police budget cuts indicated in a tweet referenced in this article that since “Dolal Idd brought an illegal gun into our city, shot at police…” that the police response was acceptable.
Cunningham missed the opportunity to recognize the recklessness in the police shootout with Dolal, and the endangerment of innocent bystanders. Why wasn’t Dolal given the opportunity to surrender peacefully, just like the white owner of a Lakeville bar, who recently opened fire on Burnsville police officers? Why can’t the police humanize Blackness, and give equal opportunity for peaceful surrender?
The use of force, in particular lethal force, symbolizes the ultimate degree of formal authority that law enforcement can exercise against a citizen. It is not unusual that in many reports and videos, we observe in Minneapolis that contacts between the police and nonwhite suspects quickly escalates into lethal force. Historically Minneapolis police officers exercise more racial profiling and force against Blacks, even though white people are more likely to resist.
Moreover, when the Black person involved is Muslim and a naturalized citizen, the profiling is heightened, and the deadly outcome perhaps deemed more justifiable. In July 2019, Eagan police shot and killed Isak Aden, another 23-year-old Somali American. Isak, a college student and business owner, was reported to be acting suicidal. The officers involved in that case were absolved by the Dakota County Attorney, who concluded that use of deadly force was legally justified.
Collateral damage from the War on Terror
Somalis are at the intersection of two criminalized identities in America, ‘Blackness and Muslimness,’ and their interaction with law enforcement is a result of these. The use of law enforcement to subjugate, marginalize and persecute Black Americans is centuries old. However, since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, this has been intersecting with Islamophobia. The War on Terror and its USA PATRIOT Act (the acronym stands for Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism) signed into law in 2001 by President George W. Bush introduced the use of community policing to prevent violent extremists.
For almost 20 years, the Department of Homeland Security has been offering grants to state and local law enforcement agencies to implement systematic surveillance of Muslim communities. Claims about a transnational terrorist group recruiting members of the Somali diaspora intensified scrutiny of Somali men from Minnesota and served as justification for police profiling of Somalis, especially young Somali men. Consequently, the federal government launched the Counter Violent Extremism (CVE) program, a counterterrorism outreach program targeting the Somali community, in the Twin Cities area.
Moreover, terror sting operations that involve the use of informants or undercover officers were deployed into cities with large Muslim population, including Minneapolis, by law enforcement agencies. Surveillance and entrapment are other tools to maintain and protect the existing system of subjugation and inequality.
The war on terror left an overwhelming impact upon policing as well. It expanded the Pentagon 1033 program and distributed equipment worth billions of dollars to thousands of law enforcement agencies. Some Minnesota agencies including the Minneapolis Police Department obtained military-grade equipment from the Department of Defense ( DOD).
The 1033 program permits the Secretary of Defense to transfer excess DOD supplies and equipment to state, county, and local law enforcement agencies across the country for use in performing their law enforcement duties. The rearmament of the police through such federal programs emerged initially in the 1990s from the war on drugs and intensified with the war on terror. Research has indicated that officers with military equipment and attitudes will resort to violence more quickly and often than those with standard issued armament.
The Minneapolis Police Department and Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office both have histories of unfairness and discrimination against Blacks and Muslims. Police reform efforts must continue. It is clear that extensive training is needed that includes developing the mental, moral and cultural tools that law enforcement officers must possess in order to build strong relationships with the community.
On Saturday, the Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office released footage of the body-cam video of their raid at the Dolal family home in Eden Prairie. In the video, officers are seen announcing the search warrant with guns drawn and one hears distressed adults and crying children. Officers interacting with the family were all male. Perhaps if there had been a female officer or a professional social worker included in the raid team, it could have helped the family, particularly the children, feel less scared and traumatized.
As often happens when Blacks provide a counter-narrative about policing, someone reading this article may think, “This is America. Follow the rules.” I will answer them that we ARE American like everyone else. The issue is not about following the rules, but that the rules and rights established in the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights work equally for all persons. It’s time we start to uproot systemic racism in all aspects of our society, particularly in the criminal justice system.