As he walked his son to a south Minneapolis bus stop, a pediatrician came to the aid of a man being kicked by a group of teens. For his help, Mani Mokalla got punched in the face.
Dr. Mani Mokalla walks his 6-year-old son to the school bus stop every weekday morning in south Minneapolis.
On Thursday, the pediatrician faced a most unusual sight for 6:40 a.m.: a group of teenagers kicking a middle-age man who lay helpless on the ground.
And he knew he had to act.
"My first instinct was, 'What the hell is going on?' and that's how I expressed it to them," he said in an interview Friday.
The answer from the four or five teenagers: Mind your business.
"It is my business," Mokalla said he responded, telling them to leave the man alone. For his involvement, he took several punches to the face.
Police are looking for the teenagers, as well as the man they were assaulting near 34th Street and 17th Avenue S. The man ran off as soon as the teenagers stopped kicking him, Mokalla said.
The punches to Mokalla, delivered by a teenage girl, were "a surprise and stupefying," he said.
When another teen stepped forward to challenge him, Mokalla told his son it was time to go. As they started to leave, the teens ran off, heading south on 17th Avenue.
Mokalla called police, but said that because his glasses were knocked off and broken, he wasn't able to give officers a great description.
He has since had second thoughts about stepping in. Maybe he shouldn't have, for his son's safety, and for his own. "But if I saw a similar situation, I would still step in," he said.
Sgt. William Palmer, a Minneapolis police spokesman, said that is a personal decision. But he urged people to call 911 as soon as possible.
"I admire where he's coming from, but he did get injured, and that's concerning to us," Palmer said, adding that no one was in custody Friday night. (The teens may also be involved in a robbery at 6:15 a.m. Thursday near 32nd Street and 23rd Avenue S.)
Mokalla said he was expecting to be outside for the briefest of times and didn't have his cell phone with him. In fact, he was in his slippers.
"It was so unanticipated that I wasn't ready to deal with it in the most rational way," said the 35-year-old father of two, who has lived in the area for seven years.
And Mokalla was concerned about his son's reaction. They talked before the boy got on the bus and again while going to bed that night, and he seems fine, he said.
For Mokalla, the incident is "a strange statement, one that saddens me on the state of our social predicament that causes people to act this way."
And, he said, it strengthened his resolve to fight child poverty and to work on other social problems such as drug abuse, troubled public schools and a lack of role models. "Teens don't get up at 6:40 a.m. to beat up people," he said.
Vince Tuss • 612-673-7692