Columbus: Somalis fear violence on North Side
Her father, Abdi Burale, was downstairs.
“It was a shock,” Burale said through an interpreter last week at a North Side office for a Somali organization.
Burale said his 15-year-old daughter spent 16 days at OhioHealth Riverside Methodist Hospital last month. She continues to heal, but the bullet remains in her skull.
“I really still don’t remember much,” said Yusuf, who will be a sophomore at Columbus Alternative High School.
Burale’s sons, ages 13 and 11, have trouble sleeping at night.
For Somalis who live near the Northern Lights shopping center on the city’s North Side, the June 13 shooting sparked new concerns about safety in an area where gunfire, robberies and break-ins are not uncommon.
“We need security, and we need a safe neighborhood,” said Burale, 44.
Community members have met twice with law enforcement since the shooting, airing general complaints and citing specific incidents at Capital Park, 2144 Agler Rd., and the Carriage House apartments, off Innis Road east of Cleveland Avenue, said Hassan Omar, president of the Somali Community Association of Ohio.
The neighborhood is part of the largest concentration of Somalis in Columbus, on the city’s North Side.
“Crime is prevalent in that neighborhood,” Omar said, adding that some residents are moving out.
Others can’t afford to.
Mohamed Jama, 73, lives at Capital Park. He said people are afraid to walk to the grocery.
“We are living in fear,” he said through an interpreter.
Another resident, Elmi Nur, 65, was attacked and beaten by four men steps from his home about two months ago. He still wears a brace on his right arm.
But Napoleon Bell, executive director of the Columbus Community Relations Commission, said he hasn’t heard of an unusual crime spike in the area.
“We just continue to work with all the refugee immigrant communities,” he said.
Abdi Soofe, an outreach coordinator with the relations commission, said he heard that the community was tense. Some women say their purses have been snatched.
“The issue with the Somali community, they think the troublemakers are from outside the community,” Soofe said.
Somali elders initially reached out last month to Franklin County Sheriff Zach Scott’s office and expressed fear that they were being targeted by non-Somali criminals, said Chief Deputy Jim Gilbert.
“We asked them, ‘Why do you believe you’re being targeted?’” Gilbert said. “They said, ‘They see us as prey. We’re hard workers,’ and are perceived as having money.”
Columbus Police Cmdr. Christopher Bowling said Somalis broached a wide range of concerns at the meeting he attended.
Many of those concerns were not crime-related but instead were complaints about living conditions at the apartment complexes, he said. Police are reviewing reports to determine whether there has been an increase in crimes, he said.
“We’re looking at the safety situation up there, and the things that aren’t police issues” will be referred to the proper agency, such as the relations commission or code-enforcement office, Bowling said.
Police explained jurisdictional boundaries and urged residents to report crime promptly, he said.
Some incidents aren’t being reported to police, Bowling said.
For instance, police learned only after Yusuf was shot that the violence had capped a day of neighborhood unrest and sporadic fights among young people. The shooting remains under investigation.
In 2003, after a number of confrontations between African-Americans and the growing Somali population at Capital Park, an effort called Project Brotherhood was started by the Columbus Urban League and the Somali Women’s Association to improve relations. The program no longer exists.
Melissa Rapp, public information officer for Mifflin Township, said Chief William Price has advised his officers to keep an eye out for problems such as those cited by the community leaders.
Price “thought it was important to be part of the communication,” she said. “That way we’re kept in the loop.”