200 to 300 students involved; some cited racial, ethnic tensions.
A cafeteria fight at Minneapolis South High School escalated into a melee involving hundreds of students Thursday, spurred by what parents and students said are growing racial tensions between Somali-American students and others.
Police said that 200 to 300 students shoved, kicked and threw bottles at one other and that extra Minneapolis police officers were called in to break up the fighting. Three students and one staff member were taken to a hospital for medical treatment, and police said rioting and disorderly conduct charges could be filed.
“We’re very fortunate no one got seriously injured,” said police spokesman Sgt. William Palmer, adding that in 19 years, “I honestly can’t recall a [similar] situation of this magnitude.”
While school district leaders said they didn’t know what sparked the fights, students such as Adnan Farah said they were the culmination of increasing racial tensions.
“This school is not safe for Somali students,” said Farah, a junior. “Throughout this year, there have been a lot of fights.”
Senior Guled Omar said he and other Somali-American students feel targeted at the school. “I don’t know if it’s because we’re minorities or the newest immigrant group,” he said.
Omar said that students have complained to the school district and principal about perceived discrimination, but that nothing has been done.
School district spokesman Stan Alleyne said he couldn’t comment on the students’ claims, but added that the district takes any complaints about racism seriously. “It is a safe school,” he said. Principal Cecilia Saddler did not reply to messages to comment.
Officials briefly considered canceling Friday classes, but decided instead to hold school, with some restrictions. Students will remain in their classrooms during class periods and access to the building will be limited.
“We are comfortable with the security measures that we currently have in place and we look forward to providing a normal instructional day,” the school said on its website.
Tensions aren’t new
The fighting came two days after an article in South’s student newspaper, the Southerner, described Somali-American students’ sense that tension around ethnic or racial differences has grown this year. Two students told the newspaper that earlier this school year, a welcome banner in Somali was ripped off a balcony by two students and that a lunch table that primarily had been used by East African students was removed from the lunchroom.
The article also described recent efforts to increase dialogue, such as creation of a Somali Student Association.