Police Investigate Somali Attacks

Mark LaFlamme, Sun Journal (Lewiston, Maine), December 17, 2009

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Throughout the summer, similar reports have come into the Police Department. Witnesses and investigators say swarms of Somali boys, some as young as 8, others in their late teens, overwhelm solitary victims through sheer numbers.

“It’s not gang activity in the traditional sense,” Deputy Chief James Minkowsky said. “We’re not seeing the colors or the monikers, but it’s still a gang mentality.”

Often, these gang members carry sticks and rocks with which to intimidate their victims. There are often four or five of them, sometimes as many as a dozen. Typically, they threaten or beat their victims until they give up the goods: money, bicycles, cell phones, prescription drugs, or other items of value.

Then they scatter.

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The attacks continued all summer; more than a dozen were reported to police. There were more in the fall and a series of them in recent weeks. In each attack, the victim is one who may have appeared weak to the group that descended on them.

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On the first day of December, a man walking through Kennedy Park after leaving a Park Street club said he was attacked by four Somali males. The group came at him from behind, knocked him down and stole prescription drugs and $150 in cash. That man told police it was the second time he was attacked in such a fashion. The first time, he was able to escape.

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In late summer, an off-duty civilian police employee was eating at a local restaurant. A local boy ran to the window, screaming for help. The police employee ran outside and found a group–roughly a half-dozen–of Somali boys. When confronted, they ran off.

Police say they are investigating the attacks on several fronts. They are using new technology and new techniques. A bigger break came in recent weeks when they were approached by a group that wants to help.

“Members of the Somali community came to us,” Minkowsky says. “They set up a meeting with us and came in to talk about it. They want to help us combat it.”

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Stephen Wessler, director of the Center for the Prevention of Hate Violence, said he was not aware of the Somali assaults in Lewiston. After hearing the nature of them, he said the attacks likely were not the type that involve his group. The motive appears to be robbery, rather than race.

While investigating the ambush-style attacks, police have little to compare them with, at least locally. A search of assaults dating back to spring revealed no incidents of a similar nature involving non-Somalis.

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