MPR: Treatment of Somali-American reporter feeds perception of racial bias

You wouldn’t know it by the journalism he’s been turning in, but Minnesota Public Radio reporter Mukhtar Ibrahim has had a challenge other reporters haven’t faced at the trial of three Somali men accused of trying to join the ISIS terror group in Syria. Ibrahim, who is Somali-American, has been singled out for different treatment than his white colleagues.

At the start of the trial, Ibrahim was not allowed to enter the courtroom with other reporters.

Later in the week, a courtroom security officer evicted several people who started an argument in the courtroom, ordering Ibrahim out before another officer intervened. In both cases, Ibrahim showed his press credentials.

“It’s not as if Ibrahim is an out-of-towner who jetted into town for a week (like me) to report on the trial,” reporter Casey Tolan wrote yesterday on “Ibrahim had been to the courthouse repeatedly for pretrial hearings. He has been one of the leading journalists covering the multi-year investigation of a Minneapolis circle of Somali-American friends who are accused of trying to join ISIS. And he was one of the few reporters covering the trial last week who actually spoke Somali.”

But Tolan says Chris Clifford, an assistant chief with the Minnesota U.S. Marshal’s office, told him on Monday that Ibrahim’s account was “not true.”

“He was told just to wait until the press was being seated and he didn’t want to wait… He wanted to get in before anyone else,” Clifford said.

Pressed for a clarification from Nancy Cassutt, executive director of MPR News, Sharon Lubinski, the U.S. Marshal for Minnesota, said Clifford did not say Ibrahim’s account was not true.

“MPR stands by our reporter’s recollection … and it is disappointing that he appears to have been singled out based on his race and/or nationality,” MPR chief operating officer David Kansas said in a letter to Lubinski this afternoon.

The Minnesota chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists, joined by the Twin Cities Black Journalists and the Minnesota chapter of the Asian American Journalists Association, registered a complaint on Monday over the treatment of the reporter.

“The apparent singling out of Ibrahim is not unprecedented at the courthouse,” it said. “Last year, while attending pre-trial hearings in the ISIS case, he noticed that he was consistently pulled aside for secondary screening while other reporters were not.”

The letter commended Lubinski for apologizing to Ibrahim in person, but called on her “to make clear to courthouse security staff that disparate treatment of Ibrahim violates the rules and procedures set out by the presiding judge.”