The man looked big enough to kill her.
Muraado Raage is a Somali-Canadian grandmother — a Black woman who wears a headscarf, just like the three women attacked this month in south Edmonton.
She was sitting at a bus stop in 2015 when the man walked up and began yelling: “We have al-Qaida around us right now. … This place is dangerous. Al-Qaida is around.”He was huge and angry, she said, speaking through a translator. She froze, kept her eyes down, tense against a blow that fortunately never came. When the bus arrived, she fled.
For Edmonton’s Somali community, recent hate-filled attacks have been a shock but not a surprise. That danger has been building over the last few years, said a group of mothers and grandmothers called Hoyo Collective.
For years they felt at least their girls were safe. The boys have been at risk since the mid 2000s, with dozens of unsolved homicides often tied to drugs and gangs. But these attacks leave them feeling besieged from every side.
“Now it’s our girls,” said Nasra Warsame, a Somali mother whose daughter was robbed at knife-point on a bus. “I hear from so many mothers who won’t even allow their girls to go out. … It’s not only me. It’s every mom.”
On Dec. 8, a man shouted racial obscenities at two Somali women in their car near Southgate Mall. He broke the vehicle’s window, pushed them to the ground and hit them until bystanders stepped in.
A week later, a woman at the Southgate LRT station swung her bag at a young Black woman wearing a hijab, again spewing hate. She was arrested by an Edmonton Transit peace officer.
The next day, a third violent attack happened when a Black man walking down the sidewalk in Parkdale had racially motivated insults yelled at him by another man and was pushed. A witness helped police find the two men and stop the attack.
In the last month, the community also lost two more young Somali men to homicide — one whose death was caught on a cellphone video and shared, further traumatizing a war-ravaged community.
The mothers and grandmothers asked to meet with me as a cry for help. They looked frustrated, at times overwhelmed and tearful on the Zoom chat.
Members of Edmonton’s Somali community came to Canada in the early 1990s, fleeing civil war and the collapse of the central government. They often landed in Toronto, then came west seeking jobs. Although a second wave came between 2011 and 2016, most of the roughly 20,000 Somalis are no longer newcomers and the challenge is not to settle and discover a new country, but to integrate and find jobs.
They’ve faced discrimination both for religion and skin colour, struggling to have their education and credentials recognized, and to help their children thrive in school. Now there’s this.
Members of the Hoyo Collective welcome Edmonton’s first Somali-Canadian police officer, Const. Amal Abdi (centre) in 2018. Pictured also are president Asha Fahiye (wearing yellow) and Asha Dahir (second from left). Photo credit: Dunia Nur
“I’m appealing for any peace-loving human to campaign against this violence and hate crime,” said Asha Fahiye, president of the Hoyo Collective.
We need the government to help, added founding member Asha Dahir, speaking through translator Dunia Nur. So many boys have been killed and their killers never identified. “That’s a soul that is lost, a soul that is loved. How do you expect women to be confident and come out to police when they won’t even solve a homicide?”
The boys are not innocent but they’re young. They’re between the ages of 16 and 22, caught up in something larger than them, said Warsame. “Who is buying the gun?”
“The government is acting naive,” added Raage, the grandmother who feared for her life during the incident at the bus stop. “They very well know where people have access to guns and they very well know communities that disproportionately die from gun violence. Our government needs to be courageous enough and tell the truth, and let’s all work together to have adequate intervention,” she said.
As we were talking, Edmonton police Chief Dale McFee called Nur to schedule a meeting in January between himself, the Hoyo Collective and homicide detectives handling cold case files. Hoyo Collective is asking for more resources to investigate homicides involving Black youth, and also for support creating new peace-making and restorative justice circles.
In an interview later, McFee said seven out of 35 homicide cases this year involve a Somali youth, either as a victim or suspect, and the service knows it must work with the community to build longterm, supportive relationships of trust in order to solve and prevent deaths.
Edmonton has struggled for many years with high rates of violence and social issues, which feed each other, he said. That’s why this year they rearranged the police service to create a proactive, community-focused bureau with civilian and academic expertise. He’s optimistic that if they stay consistent in this new approach, it will lead to positive results.
As for the recent attacks, he said, “it’s unacceptable and people who chose to do this will be held accountable.”
A hate crime does more damage than a random attack because it terrifies a whole community. Three people lashed out in violence and another generation of young women is losing their freedom to walk without fear and feel welcomed as full members of the Edmonton community.
At least in each case, there was someone to step in, including bystanders who stopped attacks and helped police get to where they were needed.
I don’t know what the fix is. But these mothers need to hear me say publicly that this is not OK — not the hate, nor the racism, not any of it. They are welcome here. They are part of us and may the year 2021 bring new hope and real solutions.