A Minnesota Islamic leader called Tuesday for heightened protection of Muslim students statewide after a threat was reported toward a Washington County grade school student.
Sheriff Bill Hutton said the incident was under investigation but that there had been no indication so far that a hate crime was committed.
The incident, which reportedly occurred last week, was among several recent episodes in the metro area that were being looked into by the Minnesota chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-MN).
Parents of a Muslim student at Afton-Lakeland Elementary School told CAIR-MN that on Nov. 11, an older boy at the school threatened to shoot the Muslim student, a third-grader. On Nov. 14, the same boy reportedly brought what Hutton described as a replica firearm on board a school bus.
The driver confiscated the weapon and called authorities, averting a “major tragedy,” Executive Director Jaylani Hussein said Tuesday.
“We are asking all school districts across the state to step up protection for Muslim and other minority students in the wake of this incident and because of the wave of racist and anti-Muslim incidents nationwide following the Nov. 8 election,” he said.
Hussein said Tuesday that he wouldn’t “rule out at this point whether it’s a hate crime.” He said he provided the sheriff with other details suggesting the Muslim boy was targeted because of his religion.
Hutton said he talked with Hussein on Tuesday.
“Given the number of incidents involving Muslim students in the metro area, I understand the message that is being delivered,” Hutton said. “I appreciate his position and his concern because of the number of reports his organization is receiving, and law enforcement as well, about Muslim students being assaulted. He wants to make sure that schools, parents and law enforcement are aware.”
Afton-Lakeland school has about 500 students enrolled in grades K-6. The school sits on the border of Lakeland and Lakeland Shores at Hwy. 95, about 2 miles south of where Interstate 94 crosses the St. Croix River.
A spokeswoman for the Stillwater school district, Carissa Keister, confirmed that an incident took place but said she couldn’t provide specifics, citing data privacy laws that protect students.
“As demonstrated by the quick action of the bus driver, we take threats to any of our students very seriously,” she said. “School administrators cooperated fully with local law enforcement to keep our students safe and resolve the matter without incident.”
Keister said she couldn’t comment on whether a student had been suspended from the school. However, according to its policy, the district will “discipline or take appropriate action” for anyone in violation.
In nearby Woodbury, which has a mosque, police will be contacting members of the large Muslim congregation, police spokeswoman Michelle Okada said. “The intention was to make sure if they had concerns that we were reaching out to them,” she said.
CAIR-MN said Tuesday that it is also looking into other recent incidents involving female Muslim students who were allegedly assaulted and had their hijabs pulled at Northdale Middle School in Coon Rapids and St. Louis Park High School, Hussein said.
Students in St. Louis Park reported the incident occurred on Nov. 11. School officials have stated there is no evidence of the assault, and no actions have been brought against the student who allegedly committed the assault.
In another incident, Hennepin County prosecutors on Tuesday charged a 56-year-old man with making racial slurs and assaulting a man for speaking Somali aboard a Metro Transit bus over the weekend.
According to a criminal complaint filed in district court, Cornell White, who has no permanent address, was charged with fourth-degree assault motivated by racial bias, and possessing methamphetamine.
Authorities said that police responded Saturday to a report of a fight on board a bus near Chicago Avenue and E. Lake Street in south Minneapolis. When they arrived, officers found White allegedly yelling racial and sexual slurs as he exited the bus, according to prosecutors.
The victim told police that he had been speaking Somali with a friend on the bus when the defendant suddenly got up and started yelling at him to “speak English,” before punching the victim several times in the face and body, the complaint said.
Staff writer Libor Jany contributed to this story.