Editor’s Note: An open letter was recently sent from a Capitol Hill business owner to the mayor and other city officials about a gang of Somali youth ‘terrorizing’ the neighborhood.
The Seattle Globalist received a request to publish this response letter from representatives of the Somali and East African communities to Mayor Murray:
Dear Mr. Mayor,
We are writing on behalf of the East African and Somali communities in Seattle. We have been informed that your office has received a complaint email from a Capitol Hill business owner and from others in the neighborhood.
We are very sorry to hear this news. As East African community members we are more than prepared to collaborate with your office and the police department to look into these allegations of criminal activity by members of our community and work with all parties involved in this matter as soon we can.
We, the community members, disapprove of the allegations. We feel saddened by the generalization that the youth gang had the appearance of Somali ethnicity. We are a very peaceful and friendly community. The news of the allegations raised major concerns among us. We have already had our fair share of problems, but these new accusations are unreasonable, and unsubstantiated.
As a community, we are dismayed by charges that our youth are involved in activities such as nightclubbing, drinking, terrorizing, gambling and prostitution. We teach our youth and children to stay away from all the above practices. We are traditionally a very conservative community who are principally against such offenses. It is our obligation to respect our neighborhood.
Our communities are residing around Yesler Terrace and the surrounding areas of the Capitol Hill, and we have a large number of students who study at Seattle Central Community College and Seattle University. We also have a large number of taxi drivers and Uber drivers who serve all the above-mentioned communities, but mainly work around Capitol Hill.
We’ve heard that there have been a number of robberies that took place in the Capitol Hill area, and that the police have stepped up patrols in the area in response. In his complaint letter to you, the Capitol Hill business owner generalized that the perpetrators of these crimes are Somali. We hereby express our strong belief that these crimes are the work of a tiny number of misdirected youth, and fear they will result in the indiscriminate profiling law abiding Somali citizens of Seattle.
Capitol Hill business owners are targeting the Somali community, and are using their disproportionate power and money to influence local officials. We’ve also heard reports that they’re refusing to serve the Somali community members and students who study and work around that neighborhood.
We sincerely believe that the Mayor’s Office and the Seattle Police Department will conduct a though investigation and will not consider the voice of just one group of citizens and bend to their wishes, at the expense of another.
As representatives of the Somali and East African communities, we want to make clear our willingness to collaborate and work through these issues as one community.
President, African Diaspora of Washington
East African Community Activist
Update 9/23/2014: Following circulation of the above letter to Seattle Central staff and faculty, we received this response from Jamal Ahmed, who works in the Learning Support Center there:
As a Somali person from the same East African community, it is my belief that the kind of denial portrayed in that article is what has been propagating the continuation of this cycle of violence in our community. Any interested party can walk around Pine/Pike on any given week/weekend evening and they will be dismayed by the number of intoxicated and belligerent East African youth either partying or selling drugs on the streets.
Granted, we as a community teach our children that it is against our religion and morals to engage in drinking, clubbing, gambling or prostitution. Just like any other community, our youth do not always abide by our guidelines. It is a sad fact that despite all the hurdles; cultural differences, language barriers, access to resources such as employment and education that face our immigrant community here in Seattle, some of us have chosen to create additional obstacles onto ourselves by choosing a lifestyle that is contrary to our culture and traditions.
As members of the East African Community we need to reflect on ourselves instead of pointing fingers. A blanket denial of issues will not advance our interests in any way. Let us not wait for an outsider to point out problems that is apparent to all of us. The sooner we start having discussions in our homes about our unique set of issues the better for us because the alternative to that is going to be increasing homicides, robberies and further tarnishing of the East African community name in the media.
I happen to work on Broadway at Seattle Central College and do not remember ever being denied service at any restaurant around here. The students that attend Seattle Central are a productive group of students that any restaurant are honored to serve. So for those of you purporting to serve and represent the East African community, I believe you are out of touch with the real issues affecting our community. I will give you a few pointers.
First, we need to develop and propagate healthy relationships with the authorities especially with the Seattle Police Department. A lot of things go unreported or are reported late and thus hinder investigations. We know the people in our communities who are dealing drugs, breaking into homes as well as engage in other kinds of vices. Let’s start by reporting these so others within the community can learn and most importantly prevent our young from following the same destructive footsteps.
Secondly, let us promote outreach and connect our community with resources such as school, work, trainings and so on. In as much as we are a close knit community we need to actively engage in the civic process and for once act like we belong here. We are very fast in calling ourselves citizens yet we shy away from actions that promote our citizenship. Let’s be honest because none of us are planning on relocating back home. This (Seattle) is our home, and we have to adjust our mindsets to fit the reality on the ground.
Finally, I want to call out all the organizations and non-profits purporting to serve the East African community. Most of you spend more hours hunting for grants than actually improving any immigrant’s life. You are part of the problem affecting the community. Instead of churning out denial letters the minute the conduct of some of our members are questioned, spend some time out there in the community. Listen and observe the members. Be a bridge between the parents and school children. Help the kids at the afterschool programs and connect others to resources. Be the link these communities need to navigate this new culture, and not the villains who pocket the grant moneys obtained by using the same community’s name and doing nothing to better their lives.
Seattle Central College