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CEO Corner: Bystanders Can Help Shed Light on Injustice – Lessons from Minnehaha Park

By Luz María Frías, president and CEO, YWCA Minneapolis
July 23, 2018
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“There’s strength in numbers. Once we show the world that we’re together, they can’t stop us.”-Cory Hardrict

Do you remember your scariest moment as a child? Did it involve monsters hiding under your bed or shadows emanating from your closet? Or perhaps getting trapped in a confined space and fearing that you wouldn’t get out in time for dinner? Do you have flashbacks of these scary memories as an adult?  Perhaps, trauma that haunts you?

Minnehaha Park Incident

Imagine the trauma experienced by four teenage boys hanging out with their friends at Minnehaha Park on a beautiful summer day and suddenly being handcuffed and searched at gunpoint.

Park Police initially claimed that they had simply “unholstered” their gun and had not pointed it at the children but later recanted and admitted that at least one gun was pointed “in the general direction” of the boys.

“I was scared that he was going to shoot me”

Fourteen-year-old Suhaib Ahmed relayed, “They pulled a gun in my face and I was scared. One was shaking and I was scared that he was going to shoot me.” Suhaib’s 13-year-old friend Abdijabar Ahmed added, “I was scared that would be my last day of the world.”

The incident occurred July 10 after the Minnehaha Park Police had been called in response to a 911 call. To add insult to injury, the boys had been victimized by an older white teenager before the police arrival. According to eyewitness accounts, the white aggressor shouted racial slurs, had a trash can, a stick and also claimed he had a knife.

Bystanders Who Helped

Bystanders helped de-escalate the aggressor’s actions which led to his fleeing from the scene. According to police, the aggressor’s girlfriend had called 911 claiming that her boyfriend was being accosted by four black teenagers with knives and a gun.

The Minnehaha Park Police didn’t find any weapons after searching the four boys and are now investigating the unfounded 911 call.

Filming the Incident

Local resident Brianna Lindell filmed some of the police encounter showing two of the boys handcuffed in front of a police car, sitting on the concrete path with one boy asking repeatedly for permission to put on his T-shirt because he was getting bitten by mosquitoes.

Brianna’s video went viral with over 3 million views to date. As a result of the video, the Park Police conduct is under investigation. The harrowing fear of these young boys and their mothers is palpable when you watch them share their account of the incident. Given the startling number of unarmed Black deaths at the hands of police across our nation, their fear is based on reality.

Lessons for Allies

There are many important lessons about how we can serve as allies. I encourage you to have your smartphone ready to record any injustice you might witness while you’re out walking your dog, at a mall or enjoying one of our parks.

A couple of years ago, I downloaded the American Civil Liberties Union’s (ACLU) Minnesota Justice app onto my smartphone. The app can be used to film a police encounter which is automatically uploaded onto the ACLU’s cloud site. In the event that something should happen to your phone, the video is securely preserved.

Shedding Light on Injustice

We must shed light on the injustice that our community continues to face. As evidenced by the many videos of injustice being shared on social media and some of the actions taken as a result, we show the world that there’s strength in numbers, that we’re together and that our fight for justice cannot be stopped!