School officials in Minneapolis have beefed up police protection and expect weeks of investigation in the wake of an all-out brawl between students at South High School in the Minnesota metropolis on February 14. Rachel Hicks, speaking for the school district, said that additional school resource officers who are trained to interact with students are now on duty, while additional district staff are also on hand at the urban school. Hicks said that additional counsellors and staff are on hand to speak with students. The school is operating under partial lockdown conditions, which require students to stay inside their assigned classrooms unless accompanied by an adult. Visitors are required to sign in and show identification. The school district is implementing a safety plan.
Sgt. William Palmer of the Minneapolis police said of the fracas, "We're very fortunate no one got seriously injured. I honestly can't recall a [similar] situation of this magnitude."
In what the Minneapolis Star-Tribune reported was a “racially tinged” melee, between 200 and 300 students shoved, kicked and threw bottles at one another. At least three students and a school staff member were taken by ambulance to a hospital for medical treatment. Reports indicate that students at the school said that the fight broke out after tensions between Somali-Americans and other students flared. The Somalis are largely Muslim, clashing with students of various other ethnic and religious backgrounds including American Indians and black Americans. A student was quoted by local media as saying that the riot was a "racial issue" and was the most significant of this year.
Juveniles facing charges on offenses such as rioting or disorderly conduct may face the Hennepin County prosecuting attorney's office. Adults facing charges would be prosecuted either by the county attorney's office or by the city attorney's office.
District spokesman Stan Alleyne said on Feb. 15 that it was business as usual on the day after the clash. District officials are meeting with students and staff to ally any concerns. While the school district would not describe the cause of the riot, it will work address the concerns of Somali students. In addition, the district has started a Somali class and student association, said Alleyne, "but we need to do more."
Reporter Esme Murphy of WCCO-TV reported “Twelve people complained that they had been sprayed with mace. Police at the scene said they had to use chemical agent to get the crowd under control as they were being pelted with objects as they tried to break things up. … [One student] said the fights were over pride. ‘I know it’s a pride thing between Muslims and black people,’ she said. ‘They want their pride back for something. I don’t know.’ She also said ‘boys were hitting girls’ and that some people were lying on the floor, with their hands over their heads, in surrender.… The fight, students say, was the result of long-simmering tensions between the 8 percent of students who are Somali Americans and the 20 percent who are African Americans.”
A story in the Minneapolis-Tribune reported “Guled Omar, a senior, said he was sitting in the cafeteria when the outburst began after a boy hit a girl. ‘I don't feel safe here,’ Omar said. ‘This is something that has been going on’ for at least two years, he said. ‘I don't know if it's because we're minorities of the newest immigrant group,’ Omar added, saying he has complained to the principal and the School District.”
A school group called Students Together as Allies for Racial Trust (START), a parent-led organization initiated by students in 2009, conducts regular meetings to discuss cultural differences and the means to bridge them. The school district declared that “almost half of the 1,750 students at the school are students of color, and of those, 8 percent are of Somali heritage.” Of the approximately 70 students involved with START, the majority are of Somali heritage.
Spero News editor Martin Barillas is a former US diplomat, who also worked as a democracy advocate and election observer in Latin America. He is also a freelance translator.