Interviewed shortly after another diner viciously attacked her at the Coon Rapids Applebee’s, Asma Jama said she feared for her life and was contemplating leaving Minnesota. But on Sunday, Jama, who emigrated here from Kenya in 2000, bravely went back to the Anoka County suburb.
Awaiting her at Coon Rapids City Hall was a gathering of supportive citizens and officials — including Mayor Jerry Koch, Police Chief Brad Wise and a local soccer coach — who came to tell her that the attack was not representative of their community values nor those of Jama’s adopted home state. “The purpose was Asma, for her to find some healing and to know that she is welcome here,’’ Koch said of the event, which was organized by one of Jama’s friends. “She should feel safe here. Everybody should feel safe here.”
Several dozen people attended the event on the sunlit front lawn of City Hall. That this good-hearted gathering occurred reflects well not only on this northwest-metro community but on the entire state, which saw its reputation tarnished as news of this shocking assault garnered national headlines.
Jama — who speaks three languages, including English — was at Applebee’s with family members on Oct. 30. Authorities say another diner became upset that Jama was speaking Swahili instead of English and struck her in the face with a hefty glass beer mug.
Photos show the power of the attacker’s roundhouse punch: Clearly, real harm was intended. Jama suffered deep cuts and bruising. A 43-year-old Ramsey woman, Jodie Burchard-Risch, was arrested by Coon Rapids police and was charged with third-degree assault, a felony. Anoka County prosecutors are investigating the possibility of first- or second-degree assault charges.
They should pursue this with vigor. Doing so will deter others tempted to convert their prejudices to violence. It also will send a strong message to Minnesota’s newest residents that their safety is a top priority.
Communities also have a role to play when violence like this happens. Justice must be pursued, but victims like Jama also need to hear from others that they are valued. The heartfelt response in Coon Rapids on Sunday exemplified just how to start righting a terrible wrong.