Several parents spoke in indignant terms Tuesday about how they believed police had used excessive force while subduing the Thursday melee that involved several hundred students.
Their comments followed a news conference where school board member Hussein Samatar, called for more efforts to keep students safe in school, improvements in the cultural competence of South staff members and more support for students enrolled in rigorous classes.
On Tuesday afternoon, a police spokesman said the department hadn’t received any complaints about the incident, but later Chief Janeé Harteau said she would investigate the concerns.
“I have requested and opened an internal review of the incident,” Harteau said. “We value the strong relationships we have built with the Somali community, and I take any allegation that threatens that in anyway very seriously.”
South Principal Cecilia Sadler also spoke publicly Tuesday for the first time about the incident. She said “some fights that escalated in our lunchroom were not able to be dispersed quickly” and grew. She said Valentine Day heightened student emotions.
As for reports that ethnic tensions fueled the matter — a contention about which students disagree — Sadler said, “We’re still doing that investigation, and we’re still figuring out that who, what, when, why.”
Sadler said staff worked hard to quell matters before police were summoned. “They have a protocol that they follow, and it’s not a pleasant one and it’s not something that students should be exposed to,” she said.
Ayan Farah, parent of a South junior, said she feels like police harassed her by calling to speak with her son after she complained about his being Maced during the incident. Her son, Adnan, said he was trying to pull students involved in the fight back when he was sprayed.
Salma Muhammed, a junior, said tensions leading to the fight had been building a long time, but she was caught up in the fighting as she was eating lunch. The asthmatic student said she was struck on the chest and jaw.
Mohamed Mohamed, the father of two South students, said his sophomore daughter was beaten without cause by other girls, losing her textbooks, and that his son was Maced by police he said used excessive force.
Minneapolis police spokesman Sgt. William Palmer said anyone concerned about the police response can file complaints with the department. “We look at all credible allegations seriously,” he said. “I’m unaware that anyone was complaining about the response until now.”