Weathering summer heat and smoke from wildfires, about 50 members of Boise’s East African refugee community and some supporters rallied in front of City Hall on Tuesday night to voice discontent over the response from city officials in the police shooting last month of a Somali man.
The group’s members said the event in support of Mohamud Hassan Mkoma, 33, a Black African resident of the city, was likely the first of several such peaceful public demonstrations they’ll hold until they see progress on demands they’ve made for greater accountability and transparency, as well as for further information on the shooting. Protesters could be back as soon as next week, organizers said.
Late Wednesday afternoon, however, the case took a dramatic turn when the Boise Police Department issued a news release saying Mkoma had been charged with four felonies, including lewd conduct with a minor under 16 years old, use of a firearm or deadly weapon during a crime and assault on a peace officer, according to a news release. Mkoma also faces four misdemeanors, including eluding police and violation of a protection order.
Police would not comment any further other than announcing the charges. Spokesperson Haley Williams said “any additional information about these charges or the investigation will come out through the courts.”
On Wednesday evening, Mkoma’s younger sister, Hawo Mkoma, told the Idaho Statesman that the family still wants questions to be answered and labeled the charges as a way for police “to silence us.”
“Could they have approached this whole thing different if it was someone that was Caucasian? Someone with mental health illnesses should have never been shot,” she said via text message. “No one should be treated that way. ... Every time we ask police questions they tell us it is under investigation, and now they charged him with charges we don’t understand. We will not be silenced just because of those changes. We will continue to raise an awareness of this and that it should never happen again to anyone.”
Mana Mohamed, an East African community representative, told the Statesman that the refugee community would keep pressing for answers. “Police releasing that information is a way for our community to stay quiet. And we are not going to stay quiet,” she said.
On Tuesday night, rally attendees, including immediate family members, held homemade signs near the corner of Capitol Boulevard and Idaho Street with slogans reading “We Want Answers!” and “Justice for Mohamud.” Mkoma is making improvements after a fourth surgery, according to family, but remains in the intensive care unit at Saint Alphonsus Regional Medical Center, they said.
The group made up of Somali and Kenyan refugees is seeking more information about what led Boise police officers to investigate Mkoma on suspicion of taking a child in the first place, and subsequently confront him and fire their weapons on June 27. Specifically, they want to see release of the 911 dispatch call reporting Mkoma, as well as the footage from body cameras worn by the officers involved in the shooting — both of which are part of a pair of ongoing outside investigations into BPD’s first shooting of 2021.
“We want answers on all of these things,” said Fowzia Adan, a Somali woman who is acting as a representative for the family and greater East African refugee community. “Some of these cannot be answered until at a certain point of the investigation and whatnot. But there’s certain things that can give us peace of mind, knowing that we’re being treated like we are there.”
Mkoma, a member of the area’s Somali Bantu community, is a father of five, including the 14-year-old boy he was alleged to have taken that day — a detail BPD has never acknowledged — and shares custody of the teenager with his ex-wife, family and community members said. He speaks limited English and is on medications to treat his schizophrenia diagnosis, two of Mkoma’s younger siblings confirmed to the Idaho Statesman.
Mkoma previously pleaded guilty to three misdemeanor domestic battery or assault charges, according to Ada County court records. A prior protection order lapsed in 2017, and he completed his probation last September, the online court records show.
Family and community supporters also have been demanding Mkoma’s release from police custody once he recovers.
“We don’t want him being arrested. That’s the main goal, because he didn’t do anything wrong, so he doesn’t deserve to be charged with anything,” Mohamed Mkoma, his younger brother, said Tuesday night in an interview on the steps of City Hall. “I think we’ll be here a couple times, until we meet our goal. That’s what we’re working toward. And we’re going to come out here as often as we can to reach at least one goal.”
Grassroots campaign over police shooting gains momentum
After the 911 call on June 27, police said, patrol officers located the man they now have identified as Mkoma and his vehicle a handful of hours later, and also reported seeing a weapon. On Wednesday, BPD identified this for the first time as a “firearm or deadly weapon,” without offering further detail. Police said that when they tried to stop the suspect, he fled. Not far away, near the corner of 36th Street and Eyrie Way, they spun out the vehicle and officers confronted Mkoma and ended up firing their weapons.
Police said that prior to the shooting, they were on the verge of issuing an Amber Alert in the case because it was believed that the teenage boy was in danger.
BPD has been tight-lipped about details since that time, while an Ada County Critical Task Force investigation is conducted, led by the Garden City Police Department. The city has said a separate investigation by its independent Office of Police Oversight is also underway.
“This is not OK. Police are refusing to show the information,” said Farhad Albdairi, a 20-year old Meridian resident who attended the protest. “In fact, they know more than us ... (Police) shoot first and ask questions later.”
Tuesday’s protest marked the first public demonstration held by Boise’s Bantu community in support of Mkoma, in what is a growing campaign for greater response from city leaders. A smaller group of community members previously held an unannounced protest outside Saint Al’s the day after the shooting to demand increased visitation hours for Mkoma’s family.
A small demonstration of the shooting took place outside City Hall on July 6, hosted by the Black Lives Matter Boise Chapter, though Bantu community members postponed plans to attend while they met to decide how to move forward. That rally also drew counterprotesters, who waved pro-police flags and were armed, but no counterprotest developed this week.
“(We’d) just ignore them, just focus on our main goal, here to focus on Mohamud and get justice for him,” Mkoma’s younger brother said. “We don’t care what other people’s opinion is. We came here to protest, and we’re going to stick to it.”
A segment of the local Bantu population, which totals hundreds in the area, lined the grass pathway in front of City Hall on Tuesday night, waving signs at vehicles and pedestrians passing by, as well as a half-dozen police on motorcycles and bicycles who sat idle across the street on Capitol Boulevard.
Several dozen women who count themselves among the East African refugee community wore colorful Somali dresses, known as baati, with traditional hijabs and matching garbasaar headscarves. They took turns on a megaphone leading chants — such as “Justice for Mohamud!” in both English and Kizigua, a native tongue of the Somali Bantu, and, “No justice, no peace. No violent police!”
Boise city officials taking heat, meet with protesters
The Mkoma family and members of Boise’s refugee community met last week with Police Chief Ryan Lee to lay out their demands of the city and police department going forward. On Monday, four community representatives also met privately with Mayor Lauren McLean to discuss next steps, but in the interim committed to protest during the City Council’s regular weekly meeting.
“We had a meeting with the mayor last night. All she did was listen to us, and that is all. Nothing was done,” Fatuma Yussuf, a Bantu community member, told those gathered Tuesday. “Let’s make this a better place, that it claims to be — a peaceful place and yet it is not a peaceful place. This is not right. We need to do better.”
On a break from Tuesday’s council meeting, McLean was joined by council members Elaine Clegg, Holli Woodings and Jimmy Hallyburton in greeting demonstrators and answering a few questions.
“Where’s the footage of the shooting? You come out for a photo op,” one protester shouted at McLean. “Where’s the accountability, Mayor McLean?”
Neither McLean nor the six-member council addressed the protest or the June 27 shooting during their meeting, which ended just before 8 p.m., with protesters still outside. During the course of the meeting, about two dozen police officers were stationed just inside the doors of City Hall.
Toward the latter point of the protest, a handful of officers, including a few armed police liaisons in white polo shirts, stepped outside to speak with some demonstrators. They were quickly engaged by some protesters, including Terry Wilson, a BLM Boise leader and organizer, who repeatedly shouted “Murderer!” and told them to go back inside.
“You’re not here to help anyone. We keep us safe, you don’t,” Wilson said. “Detective — a fancy name for ... murderer. You uphold the mantle of white supremacy. Shame on you!”
Just last week, Wilson pleaded guilty to one misdemeanor count of injuring monuments, ornaments and public improvements for defacing a statue of President Abraham Lincoln in Julia Davis Park in February. He said he did it “to make a statement.”
Immediately after Wilson’s confrontation with police, a member of the East African community approached him and appeared to ask him to dial back his tone with officers, and Wilson returned to the City Hall steps to waive a BLM Boise flag at passing cars. There were no arrests or incidents on Tuesday that required police involvement, a BPD spokesperson said Wednesday.