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Immigrant storefronts vandalized in Seward neighborhood; suspect arrested

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Authorities on Thursday arrested a man they suspect in a series of vandalism incidents at east African-owned businesses in Minneapolis’ Seward neighborhood, although officials said it was too soon to assign a motive.

Police announced the arrest in a news release Thursday afternoon, less than 48 hours after the 36-year-old suspect was captured on video shattering store windows in the 2400 block of E. Franklin Avenue. He is being held pending misdemeanor charges. The Star Tribune is not naming him because he hasn’t been formally charged.

The man was arrested downtown at the Hennepin County Government Center by sheriff’s deputies who saw him in surveillance video and recognized him from an alert that was sent out to area law enforcement, according to Minneapolis police spokesman John Elder.

Responding to online speculation that the incidents were ethnically-motived, Elder said that police were considering all possibilities, but that it was too early to know what motivated the suspect.

“We obviously will look at a bias motive, to see if that’s where it falls,” said Elder. The incidents come in the wake of several national news reports that falsely reported that suspects in a string of street robberies downtown were Somali, prompting fears of reprisals in the east African community.

By Thursday afternoon, at least one business, a pharmacy, had replaced its shattered windows, while other merchants on the block were still scratching their heads about how they would pay for repairs.

Salah Mohamed, co-manager of Seward Market and Halal Meat, shook his head as he played surveillance footage of one of the incidents for a reporter. In the 25-second clip, a man in a black muscle shirt and pants is shown throwing a rock at one of the store’s windows before walking away. The video shows him bending down to pick up what appears to be a brick, which he is seen carrying back to the store and heaving heaved at the window.

He said whether or not the suspect was specifically targeting Oromo- or Somali-American owned businesses, the damage was done.

“We’re not sure if he was just after us or if he was just throwing stones,” he said.

A few doors down, the sidewalk outside Capitol Cafe & Catering was teeming with activity. Hillary Oppmann, of the Seward Civic Commerce Association, was passing out fliers advertising a meeting later that afternoon to encourage people to shop at the affected businesses.

“This isn’t what normally happens on Franklin,” she said. “We won’t stand for this sort of hateful actions whatever the reasons were.”

Abdirahman Awad, a manager at Capitol Cafe & Catering, watched as a window installer assessed the full extent of the damage, jotting notes onto a clipboard. A thin plastic film stretched across all three windows.

“He said he’ll give me a discount: $5,400,” Awad said later.

Tiger Worku says that he was awakened in his apartment above the cafe by the sound of “two booms” that sounded like gunshots, but thought it sounded far away until he saw the glare of police lights outside his bedroom window. The community organizer, who is in his senior year at South High, said he was heartened to see the community rallying to the businesses’ needs.

“This one event really doesn’t model what Seward is about,” he said.

Also targeted were 5 Dollar Pizza at Franklin & 2nd avenues S. and Seward Postal and Wireless, which had a piece of plywood over where a large window had been.

Mohamed Barre said he decided to pop into the cafe to show his support, after dropping off his dry cleaning on his day off from his job with the county.

“We as a community used to keep everything to ourselves, but we have reached a point where we need to talk,” said Barre, saying that he drove from his home in Northeast after reading about the incidents on Facebook. “I thought I had the obligation to show support.”

 

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