University, community at odds over 'Somali Night' scuffle

A chaotic scene unfolded over the weekend when a massive fight broke out at Somali Night on the University of Minnesota's campus, though the school and those involved are telling two very different stories about what happened as the event came to a close Friday night.

Somali organizers insist the university and police racially profiled individuals, mishandled a large crowd and roughed up innocent people, while the school is defending its actions and blaming what happened on some out-of-control young people in the audience.

The Minnesota Daily, U of M's student newspaper, published photos of what appears to be one of two arrests made following the festivities at Northrop Auditorium, where just minutes earlier police say a chemical irritant was used to disperse a crowd estimated at 2,500 people.

“The whole police [department] was there," said long-time Somali community activist Omar Jamal, who was in attendance at the time. "It was like a crime scene.”

The host organization, he Somali Student Association, claims a combination of community mistrust and an overwhelming police presence escalated a joyous night into a nightmare.

The group wrote in a statement, “had the attendees been treated the same as any audience Northrop hosts instead of as cattle and allowed to exit the venue at a normal pace, a night of celebration wouldn’t have ended in brutality.”

As for the police response, the U of M defended the actions of its police department and assisting agencies, claiming that large groups of 30-40 youth began fighting inside Northrop.

The university said multiple people were assaulted and the disturbances spilled onto campus, continuing for approximately an hour. A university statement ultimately concluded that responding officers used minimal force and some chemical irritant to maintain safety.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations responded to the incident, calling on the university to investigate further. 

According to CAIR, Somali students claim police officers "assaulted attendees and even pulled a woman by her Islamic head scarf, or hijab," while police say they responded to a report of a fight during the association’s annual cultural celebration -- featuring fashion, music and dancing. 

“Today we urge the university to launch an independent and transparent investigation of this incident,” said CAIR-MN Executive Director Jaylani Hussein. “We are concerned about the allegations of the use of excessive force by police officers.”