A man cursed at Somalis selling goods in a farmers market in west-central Minnesota last weekend and threw a pig’s foot at them, according to authorities.
Joe F. Fernkes, 61, of Willmar, has been charged with misdemeanor disorderly conduct and is scheduled to appear in court on Aug. 30.
The encounter has prompted the state’s largest Muslim civil rights organization to demand that Fernkes be charged with a hate crime.
Noting in a statement that Muslims are prohibited from consuming pork products and “bigots often use pigs or pork to offend Muslim sensibilities,” the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR-MN) said police and Somalis in Willmar are alleging that Fernkes “cursed Islam’s prophet Mohammed and threw a pig’s foot at a group of Somali-Americans” at the market outside the YMCA, 1000 Lakeland Dr. SE., late Saturday morning.
Police said they interviewed witnesses, reviewed photos taken at the scene and located Fernkes at his home, where he was given a citation.
CAIR-MN civil rights director Amir Malik said that “if you curse a person’s faith and then throw an object clearly designed to offend and intimidate, you should be charged with a hate crime.”
Fernkes contested some of the allegations against him, telling the Star Tribune that he merely approached the table in his wheelchair, set the frozen pig’s foot down and “didn’t say one word. … It’s something I shouldn’t have done, but I’m tired of it.”
He said other Somalis nearby started taking videos of him.
“I flipped them off and kept going,” he said.
What Fernkes, who said he served six years in the Air Force and the Army, did not deny is his frustration with immigrants from Somalia “taking over the whole damn town,” he said. “There are so many people who dislike them but won’t speak up.”