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Details muddle assault origin

A Somali man beaten in the face and neck Oct. 11 who first thought he was the victim of a hate crime is now not so sure. Aweys Bana was assaulted in front of his south Fargo apartment about 4 a.m. by two men unknown to him. Bana, who speaks limit...

A Somali man beaten in the face and neck Oct. 11 who first thought he was the victim of a hate crime is now not so sure.

Aweys Bana was assaulted in front of his south Fargo apartment about 4 a.m. by two men unknown to him. Bana, who speaks limited English, told friends and police that he believes the men asked whether he was African-American or a refugee, according to Salah Noor, Bana's friend who translates for him.

Before the 32-year-old could answer, one man punched him. He was tackled to the ground and a bystander trying to intervene was also assaulted, said Noor, 28.

The question posed initially led Bana to believe he was being targeted because of his race and refugee status, Noor said. But developments in the case now lead the two to believe it may have just been a random incident involving alcohol, Noor said.

"I don't know if we can call it a hate crime," Noor said. "I'm thinking that this was just one of those random things."

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The incident created fear in the Somali community, which reached out to local officials, including the Fargo Human Relations Commission. The commission scheduled a news conference Friday to discuss the incident, but it was quickly canceled.

Concerns were raised about calling the incident a hate crime because police are still investigating, said Prairie Rose, the commission's chairwoman.

Fargo City Administrator Pat Zavoral told Rose a news conference might be premature, but said it was her call.

"If you're going to have a news conference on a hate crime and it isn't one, then you're compromising the Human Relations Commission's ability to make judgments in the community," Zavoral said Friday.

"We were persuaded by city management to not go forward with the press conference because we don't have all the facts," Rose said.

Fargo police have interviewed one suspect about the 4 a.m. incident and are still investigating, Lt. Pat Claus said Friday. Police have not determined a motive.

Nate Bailly, a community development planner who is the staff liaison for the Human Relations Commission, said when it comes to determining if a hate crime has occurred, "We need to make sure that we're not making any assumptions before we become very public about it."

"We obviously are very sensitive to these concerns," Bailly said. "At the same time, we have to be sure we're not inflaming" the situation.

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Bana has lived in the community for 13 years and hasn't had problems in the past. He has had difficulty eating, drinking and swallowing since the attack, but has gotten progressively better, Noor said.

The extent of his injuries would indicate if potential charges are likely for misdemeanor assault, Claus said.

Claus added he does not believe a news conference would have affected the investigation.

Most view Fargo as a nice community, but there are situations that can be frightening for some people who do not speak or understand English very well, said Noor, who added that's why help was sought from the Human Relations Commission.

The commission scheduled a special meeting for noon Wednesday at Fargo City Hall to address the incident and the Somali community's concerns that it may have been targeted, Rose said.

Forum reporter Helmut Schmidt contributed to this report

Readers can reach Forum reporter Brittany Lawonn at (701) 241-5541

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