Last Saturday night at the Crossroads Mall in St. Cloud, an armed man took to violence by stabbing 9 people who were along different parts of the mall. According to a St. Cloud Times news report, he was eventually shot and killed by an off duty police officer after he allegedly attempted to lunge at said officer. The victims of the stabbings were taken to the St. Cloud hospital, and all but possibly 1 of them did not sustain life threatening injuries. And at the time this piece is being written, (the night of Sunday, Sep. 18), the motives of the suspect remain unclear. But such a jarring and heinous, violent crime cannot go unnoticed by the surrounding St. Cloud community and beyond and has left many people in a state of shock and fear. It is this state of fear that I would like to explore some more in this piece.
It is no secret that the perpetrator of this violent attack has been identified as Dahir Adan, a young Somali-American man who lived in St. Cloud and was in his junior year at St. Cloud State University. I identify him as such because every media outlet that I’ve seen reporting on this violent crime already have, and I strongly fear that such an incident will incite further Islamophobia and anti-Somali-American racism in our community. The extreme violence that the perpetrator committed is devastating and inexcusable, but we as St. Cloudians must unite and refuse to let the actions of one individual member of our community speak for an entire group of Somali-Americans, who are valued and important members of our community. And let’s be real here, the resolution and interpretation of this crime may have been very different if the attacker had been white.
People have already begun speculating that the incident in question was an act of terror. Since the motives of the suspect remain unclear, it is still unknown as to whether the perpetrator had any terrorist affiliations. According to St. Cloud Police Chief, Blair Anderson, as reported by CNN, “We still don’t have anything substantive that would suggest anything more than what we know already, which is this was a lone attacker,” “And right now, we’re trying to get to the bottom of his motivations.” (Narayan & Visser). It is important here to recognize if the perpetrator of this crime had been white, and non-Muslim, mainstream media outlets would not be speculating as to whether the assailant was a terrorist. This evidence of white privilege is abundant. An article interrogating Islamophobic ideologies by pointing out that “For instance, there were over 300 mass shootings in the United States in 2015 and less than 1 percent of them were committed by Muslims; but it was the one committed by Muslims in San Bernardino that was immediately labeled an act of “terrorism.” We, especially white folks, need to acknowledge the instrumental role that racism and Islamophobia play in the rhetoric that is used to describe incidents and perpetrators of mass violence and critically engage in these social issues by making sure to call white terrorism by what it really is: terrorism.
The author goes on to depict recent examples of terrorist attacks committed by a white, and often Christian men, of which corporate owned media and others were way too reluctant to label as terrorist attacks,
Just one week before the December 2015 San Bernardino attacks, a white man named Robert Dear walked into a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs (with a radical Christian ideology according to his ex-wife’s court testimony) and killed several people in an act of mass murder. But that was never called Christian (or domestic) terrorism in our American media. Only six months before that episode, our nation witnessed a 21-year-old white supremacist named Dylan Roof who walked into an African-American church and then proceeded to slaughter nine innocent African-American parishioners; including a South Carolina state senator whom he had asked for by name.
Americans’ refusal to label white terrorism as terrorism is a blatant upholding of white supremacist ideologies in which white people are never assumed to be a threat to society.
In relation to the resolution of this heinous crime, which ended with the killing of Dahir Adan by an off duty police officer, it is vital to note that a different outcome would have been much more likely to have occurred had the attacker been white. Black people are assumed to be more dangerous and more deadly than their white counterparts, no matter if that person has a violent history or not. Just look at the Sandy Hook Elementary school shooting, in which a white assailant killed 20 children as well as adults, who escaped from his rampage practically unscathed. Want more proof? Look to the outcome of the 2012 Aurora shooting, in which a white assailant killed a dozen people waiting outside of a movie theatre to see the new Batman film who also was detained by law enforcement practically unharmed. In no way am I bringing this up in defense of the violent actions that Adan took on Saturday, and I recognize that some sort of action definitely needed to be taken to stop Adan from hurting more people. I am simply stating that, statistically, if Adan had been a white, non-Muslim person committing this grotesque crime, he would have had a much higher probability of coming out of it alive.
But even with all of this information and feminist analysis, I anticipate that there is, and will be, a lot of white (and non-white, non-Somali) members of our community who will demonize and generalize the entire Somali-American community as responsible for the violence of this one individual. Again, what happened at Crossroads Mall this past Saturday was not okay, but we cannot blame an entire community for the actions of a single person. It is our social responsibility, as the community of St. Cloud, to challenge and deflect hateful, bigoted backlash aimed at our community’s Somali-Americans. My heart goes out to the victims of this violence and their families, and also the family of Dahir Adan, who must reconcile with Adan’s unusual act of violence and his subsequent death. We need to unite, responsibly process, and respond to this traumatic event without participating in more hatred and violence towards members of our St. Cloud community. If it wasn’t for Islamophobia, racism, and xenophobia, this entire incident may never have happened in the first place (again, this does not in any way excuse Adan’s actions, but is merely a reflection of the reality of anti-Somali and Islamophobic oppression that festers in our community, and how everyone’s actions have consequences). Let’s move forward and heal from this.
Ruth Sybil May is a junior undergraduate student at SCSU, studying Gender and Women’s Studies, Human Relations, and Film studies. Ruth is a transgender, non-binary femme person from a poor, working class background with a passion for feminism, fashion, film, and rad tunes.