Federal Officials Reach Out To Somali Community To Build Partnerships; Event Scheduled For Saturday, June 8, At Colina Del Sol Park And Recreation Center In City Heights
In December, 2010, U.S. Attorney Laura Duffy took the highly unusual step of appearing at a community meeting to field questions from Somali immigrants who were troubled by the arrests of four men suspected of sending money to the terrorist group al-Shabaab. One of the four was a popular leader of a local mosque.
While the meeting felt tense at times, that dialogue paved the way for Duffy and counterparts at the FBI to create a more formal partnership with community activists, social service providers and spiritual leaders to improve communication, break down misunderstandings and build trust between law enforcement and the San Diego Somali community.
The group of about 24 people calls itself the San Diego Somali Community-Law Enforcement Roundtable. And while community outreach is a cornerstone of President Obama’s counterterrorism strategy, the San Diego partnership has focused first and foremost on building relationships and creating good will.
Law enforcement officials are trying to show members of the community – who are typically leery of authorities in part because of traumatic experiences in their war-torn homeland – that they can be trusted to protect civil rights, vigorously respond to hate crimes and offer support should community members suffer backlash or threats in the wake of events like the Boston Marathon bombings.
“We are trying to create strong, positive relationships between the community and law enforcement so that victims are more likely to report crimes and community members are more likely to come forward when they observe signs of gang-involvement, radicalization or other behaviors that threaten the safety of the community,” Duffy said.
“We also hope this partnership will help us prevent vulnerable youth – many of whom are new residents that experience culture shock and language barriers and difficulty assimilating - from being bullied, recruited by gangs or even drafted into extremism,” Duffy said.
The group holds bi-monthly meetings to discuss issues facing the Somali community and to plan community engagement projects. The U.S. Attorney’s office is also working with local mosques to provide presentations about a variety of public safety topics, such as constitutional rights, what to expect when interacting with law enforcement, an overview of the criminal justice system, Transportation Security Administration screenings at airports, and resources for people reentering the community after incarceration.
The Roundtable has three standing subcommittees. The Law Enforcement Cultural Programs Subcommittee is developing training materials on Somali customs, practices and culture for members of law enforcement. The Youth Subcommittee focuses on health and safety issues for youth. The Young Adult/Re-entry Subcommittee is looking at eliminating some of the barriers impeding the successful transition of Somali youth and young adults who are returning to the community after incarceration.
“We want all sectors in our district to understand that while we are certainly concerned with investigating and prosecuting crimes, we are equally concerned with protecting constitutional rights,” Duffy said. “This is another example of how we are trying to expand the definition of traditional law enforcement by engaging in non-traditional activities such as outreach, which is linked to prevention.”
The partners will hold a Youth Athletic and Resource Fair on Saturday June 8, 2013, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Colina Del Sol Park and Recreation Center, 5319 Orange Avenue, in City Heights. The Youth Athletic Event will include a soccer clinic for girls and a basketball tournament for boys, and will also offer a variety of safety-themed resource booths and activities. The FBI and FBI Citizens Academy Alumni Association will host a booth to distribute Child ID Kits and online safety information for children.
“We are very excited to host an event which will bring families out to share in athletic competition, promote public safety education, and encourage the youth in our community to get involved in positive activities such as organized athletics,” Duffy said.
In recent years, Somali youth in the U.S. have been especially vulnerable to recruitment efforts by the Somalia-based terrorist group al-Shabab. The U.S. government has designated al-Shabaab a foreign terrorist organization for its links to al-Qaeda and its tactics that include suicide bombings, beheadings and assassinations.
More than 20 young men have left Minnesota – home to the nation’s largest concentration of Somali immigrants – for Somalia since 2007 in what has been described as one of the largest recruiting efforts of U.S. fighters by a foreign terrorist organization.
In San Diego, the four Somali immigrants whose arrests inspired the initial meeting between law enforcement and the community were convicted by a federal jury of conspiring to provide material support to al-Shabaab. They are scheduled to be sentenced June 27.
The Roundtable, meanwhile, continues to meet, expand, and pursue its mission.
For further information about the Roundtable, please contact the U.S. Attorney’s Office or Erin McKinnon at the FBI at (858) 499-7464.
Public Affairs Coordinator
Office of the United States Attorney
Southern District of California