3 Jun 2020

Minneapolis men racially profiled in office gym describe mood in US amid protests

From Checkpoint, 5:42 pm on 3 June 2020

Just a day after George Floyd died on a street in Minneapolis, with a police officer's knee on his neck for more than eight minutes, a white man confronted a group of African-American men while they were using their private office gym.

The businessmen caught the confrontation on video. It showed the white man - who was also a tenant in the building - demanding proof the men belonged there, before he threatened to call the police.

Salman Elmi and Abdi Hassan run the marketing business Top Figure in the same city where Floyd had died the day before. They shared the video of themselves and their colleagues being racially profiled, and it quickly went viral.

"We were just shook, I just couldn't believe what we were experiencing," Hassan told Checkpoint.

"The biggest thing for us is how we handled ourselves, not to give him the reaction that he expected, not to give to him weapons to use against us, not to give him any of the reaction he wanted.

"It's easy to get angry when it happens. It happens quite often to a lot of people like us. Just trying to make it in the business world is already hard enough for us. Facing racism and being profiled – there's already extra weight that we shouldn't have to deal with.

"It's not fair that we're having to deal with things like this, but we understand it's our reality, there's nothing you can do about it. There's not a formula to get rid of it. We're going to keep facing it."

The main reason the men shared the video of the confrontation was for their voice to be heard, Hassan said.

"And for people to know how to handle themselves in situations like this, because it is going to keep happening, this isn't the first time, this isn't going to be the last time, and it's going to continuously be happening. It all comes down to how we handle ourselves."

It was shocking and unexpected for something like that to happen the day after Floyd's death, in the same city, Elmi said.

"The crazy and sad part is the gentleman … we asked him 'were you aware of this situation happening?' and sadly, he said 'I don't watch the news. I don't watch the news because it's a bit depressing'."

But Elmi and Hassan believe with the amount of coverage following the death of Floyd, the man would have been aware.

"He definitely knew what was going on with everything, he knew when he made that threat, what he was doing," Hassan said.

The owner of the building has supported the Top Figure team, making sure they feel safe at the property, Elmi said. And the man who confronted them lost his office lease there.

Since the confrontation, the men have taken part in the peaceful protests in Minneapolis, and don't condone the violence they've seen in protests across the US.

"You see these kind of things online – in the countries that our parents are from, you see this unrest," Elmi said.

"And being in America – our parents escaping that and coming here and seeing burnt buildings, police killings, this kind of stuff happening, you think in a really developed part of the world – it's crazy to see that stark reality happening in your own backyard.

"Violence isn't the answer to anything, it's not going to solve it. It's going  discredit what your message is. You can't fight fire with fire. You have to fight it with positivity, love and understanding because we don't know what people are going through, we don't know what their minds contain.

"We have to be able to show a different and a positive light," Elmi said.

"When people agitate you and get you upset they want a reaction, that's the biggest thing," Hassan said. "When you give them a reaction you gave them exactly what they're looking for, then you become the problem."

"It wasn't easy for us to just hold our mouth at that moment, bite our tongue. We knew there's a bigger message, we know the world was going to see this eventually."

The men say they have had an overwhelming amount of support from around the world after sharing the video of their experience of racial profiling.

And they say the protests will help bring change.

"We're in a time of history, we're making history right now. This country is going insane right now, and honestly, people are just fed up. People are just tired. There has been peaceful protesting, [but] the message doesn't get heard. And now with riots, it got the attention of the President, it got the attention of the military, it's getting the attention of everybody.

"So, the court systems and everybody has to take … these things into consideration, moving forward. They have to put things in place, they have to actually start making things fair to a certain extent.

"We're definitely not promoting it, but honestly I think this was the only way to get the attention," Hassan said.

"George lost his life – probably one of the saddest things I've witnessed, to take another human being's life like that – very sad. So the message definitely got heard by the whole United States, and the world."