BOISE, Idaho — Editor's Note: This article was originally published by the Idaho Press.
Members of a local Bantu group met with the Boise Police Chief Ryan Lee last week, expect to meet with Mayor Lauren McLean on Monday and are planning a protest Tuesday following a police shooting involving one of its members.
The protest, set for July 13, will be silent, said Mana Mohamed, who is representing the Somali Bantu group. The city of Boise confirmed a meeting with McLean had been scheduled.
Mohamud Hassan Mkoma was shot by officers June 27. The three officers involved have been placed on paid leave. Police said they had received reports of a child abduction and they had reason to believe the child was in immediate danger, according to the original news release.
Community activists have said Mkoma was with his son and doesn’t speak English. They are asking police to turn over the body camera footage and 911 call from the incident. The child was in the vehicle with Mkoma when Mkoma was shot.
Bantu community members are also asking if the incident could have been handled differently, particularly for someone like Mkoma who struggles with mental health. Mkoma was diagnosed with schizophrenia in 2014, Mohamed said, and there are questions about why police did not call a translator since Mkoma speaks Kizigua.
Boise Police thus far have refused to release the initial incident report to either the Bantu community members or the media. In an emailed statement to the Idaho Press the department said “Once we are able to discuss the investigation we will be happy to answer all of your questions and provide you with the police reports.”
Mkoma has been hospitalized for two weeks. Mkoma’s siblings said he would be in surgery on Saturday, according to Mohamed.
Bantu community members also want visitation for Mkoma’s family to be expanded, and for police to not be in the room at the hospital since he is in custody.
Police said they would see what they could do, Mohamed said.
“Our relationships with the refugee community have always been a priority for our department and will continue to be so,” the police statement said. “Chief Ryan Lee, our Refugee Liaison and many others from the department have been in close contact with the family for the last few weeks.”
Details of the investigation will not be made available while the investigation is ongoing, the department said.
The Bantu group is planning all of its meetings and protests while fearing for its safety.
“Everyone is just worried for their family members because they are like, ‘something like this it could have been my brother, it could have been my son,’” Mohamed said. “For them, Boise was somewhere they called home, somewhere safe. And now they feel like it’s not safe. They’re taking steps back.”
Mkoma is 33, Mohamed said, and has parental rights with his kids such as visitation hours. Mohamed said Mkoma faced trauma in Somalia, had to integrate into another country and has now been shot by law enforcement in the United States. Mkoma’s son witnessing the shooting also was traumatic, Mohamed said.
“I know that he is really a compassionate person, loving father, and I know, I’ve seen him in the community with his kids,” she said. “I haven’t seen him doing anything weird or strange. It’s just a normal guy with his kids, taking his kids to the playground.”
A previous protest planned for July 6 was postponed, due to the presence of other groups, Mohamed said. Those groups included Black Lives Matter Boise and the Idaho Liberty Dogs, she said.
The Bantu community decided the protest could get out of hand and possibly become violent, she said. Mohamed hopes other groups don’t come to Tuesday’s protest and attempt to use it for their own causes.
“My community do not want to be involved in conflict, they don’t like … fighting because they experienced that back in Somalia, where they getting chased by guns and they were being raped,” she said. “They don’t want to have to get triggered again.”
Though the Bantu community pulled out of the protest Tuesday, Black Lives Matter Boise, Wall of Moms Idaho and other unidentified counterprotesters did show up outside Boise City Hall on July 6.
“He escaped from war in Somalia that was happening in 1991. So he came to America for a better life, for freedom, for peace,” Mohamed said. “Every time (Mkoma) wakes up and sees the police, it triggers him and it makes him traumatized because he remembers the police and then the war and it’s too much for him.”
Plus, Mohamed said training police to deal with the Bantu community is important.
“What they learned back at home then here is way different,” she said. “Back at home, police were just against us and they were not there to keep us safe. We were like we’re going to go to America, somewhere we can feel safe and now this happened, we feel unsafe.”
For now, the Bantu group wants protests to be peaceful and for “transparency and accountability,” while they cope with the shattering of their reality. The protests are not in reaction to the meeting with the police.
“Everyone from out of state, different states like our families in Ohio, our families in Kansas, they’re like … ‘You guys live in Idaho, that is so racist, that place is this and this’ and we’re like ‘No, Idaho, Boise is the best place to be, there is no criminals, there are no crazy things happening,’” she said. “We’re like, wait a minute, we had a whole different image of Boise.”
Carolyn Komatsoulis covers Meridian and Ada County. Contact her at 208-465-8107 and follow her on Twitter @CKomatsoulis.