Residents of Minneapolis' Cedar-Riverside neighborhood made it clear — they're glad to finally have an attorney general who looks like them.
But that wasn't going to stop Minnesota's first black and first Muslim to hold the position from getting an earful.
"We understand you've only been in the office for eight weeks, but we've been suffering for years," Fardowsa Mohamed told Keith Ellison during Wednesday night's public forum at the Brian Coyle Community Center.
Mohamed demanded answers on what Ellison's office could do for East African immigrants, especially to curb racial and ethnic profiling and what she described as false suspicions that shadow the growing community.
Ellison said he could not — and would not — arbitrarily dismiss cases under investigation. "But I can make sure it's not a persecution," he said.
More than 150 people flocked to the Coyle Center's gymnasium for a chance to air a wide range of grievances in a freewheeling and sometimes chaotic session with Ellison and other local leaders.
Ellison, who has previously held such "listening sessions" in north Minneapolis, St. Paul's Rondo neighborhood, Albert Lea and Duluth, heard questions about racial profiling of Somali-American youths by police, public housing, gun violence, climate change and the lack of diversity among public school teachers.
Also present were state Reps. Hodan Hassan and Mohamud Noor, both D-Minneapolis; Hennepin County Sheriff Dave Hutchinson; County Commissioner Angela Conley, and Minneapolis City Council Member Abdi Warsame.
Ellison set the ground rules for the gathering, saying each speaker would be limited to two minutes. But guests regularly blew past that time limit and some questions were not translated for the panelists.
Early on, Ladan Yusuf admonished elected officials for failing to prioritize affordable housing.
"There's a crisis going on here. Elders are being pushed out of their homes," Yusuf said to applause from her peers.
Pressed on issues of diversity within his own office, Ellison clarified that of approximately 340 current attorney general staff members, he's only had the opportunity to hire 10 — half of whom are people of color.
"None of the state agencies have a Somali person as commissioner, assistant commissioner or director of any agency," one woman lamented. "I think that's a shame. If you're gonna get our vote, then you need to hire people from this community."
Commissioner Conley acknowledged the community's anguish regarding racial profiling, saying she, too, has been profiled."We've spent a lot of money training police officers on [racial] bias," she said. "I am not immune, so I know our youth aren't."
Before rushing out, Ellison vowed to have his office look into many of the concerns, asking those who spoke to leave their contact information with his staffers.
Maryan Salad was skeptical about whether any action would be taken.
"Listening sessions are good, but nobody is promising anything," said Salad, of Eden Prairie. "I don't know whether it's just a photo opp."
She bemoaned feeling segregated in her own suburb, even though she's a U.S. citizen. "You wanna feel like an American, but I'm not treated like one."