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Sex trafficking and the Somali community

Local Somali-Americans respond to a sex ring being busted; name the new dolphin at the zoo; a bear dies in a combine accident; the Mall of America is full; a petition to fire Brad Childress.

You know how “Law and Order: Special Victims Unit,” which explicitly addresses sexual violence, tends to just keep adding details to their stories that make them all the more disturbing and upsetting? The recent news of the arrest of 29 sex traffickers centered in Minnesota is just like that. Sasha Aslanian and Laura Yuen of Minnesota Public Radio provide a fairly comprehensive overview of the case, and we’ll offer up a redacted version of that: It seems for about a decade at least three Somali gangs have collaborated on pressing underage girls (some as young as 12) into sex work, transporting them between Minnesota and such places as Tennessee and Ohio. One of the gangs, by the way, was an all-female gang called The Lady Outlaws.

The indicted gang members are listed by their actual names, as well as their nicknames, which include Shorty, Forehead, Hollywood, and Barnie. City Pages provides a complete list of the names and nicknames of those arrested.

Reg Chapman from WCCO gets responses from the Somali community, which are uniformly shocked and appalled, and include protestations that this behavior is explicitly forbidden in Islam — one interviewee points out that it was elders in the Somali community that first alerted the police. In another story on MPR, Laura Yeun provides a more detailed look into how such an extensive prositution ring could remain underground for so long, including Somali-Americans who fear reprisals if they talk and a conspiracy of silence on the part of the victims themselves, some of whom fear bringing shame on their family.

Unfortunately, immigrant and minority groups are often called into account for the behavior of a few of their members — a sort of assumption of collective guilt that more established groups don’t have to deal with; Rubén Rosario of the Pioneer Press points out that people are already using this case to malign the Somali community, and then points out that Minnesota has a long history of prostitution that predates the influx of Somali immigrants.

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Here’s another collection of Minneapolis mugshots from 1967, all of them photos of young blond women. Since they are Minneapolitans, there’s a pretty good chance they are of German or Scandinavian extraction. And yet, even in 1967, it was unlikely that reporters were seeking out blonds, or women, or Germans, or Scandinavians and asking them to comment on the fact that the young blond German/Scandinavian female population seems to produce so many criminals. Nobody was taping cartoons mocking that community outside their grocery stores, otherwise known as Red Owl, or joking on Craigslist about taking a rifle to a meeting of young blond German and Scandinavian women, otherwise known as the Duluth YWCA.

We mention this because we have another Somali story, and they may seemed linked by proximity, or by national origin, and we don’t mean to imply that. The Associated Press reports that 35-year-old Abdi Mahdi Hussein of Minneapolis has pleaded not guilty to charges that he schemed to send money to a terrorist organization in Somalia. Hussein was one of three men indicted last month on these charges.

Now let’s turn to some news that doesn’t directly relate to the Somali community. First, some animal stories. The Minnesota Zoo has a new dolphin calf, and, as the AP reports, Facebook fans will get to name it. They’ve winnowed it down to three choices, one of which is Sealie, which is a bit like having a pet dog and naming it Kitty. Chris Niskanen of the PiPress tells the story of a black bear killed by a combine in a Red Wing cornfield. It’s actually the second report in two years of a bear dying in a combine in Red Wing, but the first turned out to have been illegally hunted and killed. So, in general, combines are pretty safe for bears, and they should be encouraged to play around the mechanical harvesters. At least, that’s what we got from the story, but we aren’t very careful readers.

In what may be a sign of the recovery, for the first time in its 18 years of existence, the Mall of America is completely occupied for Christmas, according to KARE11’s Jeffrey DeMars. We were hoping this would include the store that rented beds to nap on, the delightfully named MinneNAPolis, but we think they may have gone out of business. That’s a pity, as it’s just too expensive to get a decently long nap at that aqua massage place that looks like they put you in a water worm.

It doesn’t seem like Michele Bachmann’s bid for a leadership position in the House of Representatives is being taken very seriously. MinnPost’s Derek Wallbank tracks the congresswoman’s struggle, pointing out that while many conservatives are all too happy with her fundraising abilities and her ability to gather the support of Tea Party members, privately they have been undermining her through “carefully worded statements, subtly obvious slights and anonymous comments to the Capitol Hill newspapers most closely tracking the race.” What’s their problem? Well, Wallbank makes the case that there is a fear that’s she’s a bit too much of a loose canon. It should be interesting to see how this plays out, because, for a lot of observers, it’s a test case as to how much the GOP establishment will cede room to the Tea Party.

In the protracted gubernatorial race, Gov. Tim Pawlenty has the odd task of preparing both Tom Emmer and Mark Dayton for taking over his position, as reported by the AP. Dayton has named his transition team, and, as the AP points out, they are familiar names from the DFL, including Mayor R.T. Rybak’s chief of staff. Tom Emmer, in the meanwhile, has named a recount team, as detailed by Leif Knutson of FOX9.

In arts: Marianne Combs of MPR looks at F. Scott Fitzgerald’s mostly un-remembered work as a poet. She includes a poem called “We Leave Tonight,” which sounds like something Poe might have written if somebody were forcing him at gunpoint to be boring.

In sports: Hart Van Denberg of City Pages looks into an online petition to fire Brad Childress. It’s got 10,000 signatures, and is looking to get 10 times as many. Outside of politics, we can’t think of any other social activity that can generate animus in such large numbers. Except, perhaps, YouTube videos — if we circulated a petition to fire Fred Figglehorn from YouTube, we’d probably get a half-million signatures within a half an hour.