Minneapolis man charged with vandalizing East African shops told cops he hates Somalis

Harlin St. John faces five counts of damage to property and bias crimes for smashing store windows last week. He allegedly told investigators it was in retaliation because he believed Somalis had shot at his family and he hates “the Somalis.”
Several East African-owned stores on a stretch of Franklin Avenue in Minneapolis were vandalized on Sept. 18, 2019. Mukhtar M. Ibrahim | Sahan Journal

A Minneapolis man suspected of smashing the windows of several East African-owned businesses last week along Franklin Avenue now faces five counts of damage to property as well as bias crimes for allegedly asserting that he acted out of hatred for Somalis.


Harlin St. John, 36, was charged in two separate complaints with two counts of first-degree damage to property, two counts of second-degree damage to property because of bias and one count of third-degree damage to property because of bias, the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office said Friday


He is expected to make his first court appearance Monday. Prosecutors said “other cases have been submitted” to their office and additional charges are likely.


A criminal complaint said St. John had admitted to breaking the windows of the stores in retaliation for someone he believed to be Somali shooting at his family members.


St. John told police that “Somali people are selling meth and heroin to Native people,” and that he hates “the Somalis.” 


“The State is seeking an upward sentencing departure in this case, due to Defendant’s selection of the victims, in whole or in part, based on the victims’ actual or perceived race, ethnicity, religion, and/or national origin,” according to the charging documents. “Based on Defendant’s comments to law enforcement and demeanor during his interview with law enforcement, he is believed to be a threat to public safety, specifically the Somali community.”


Minneapolis police were called to East Franklin Avenue and 24th Avenue South at about 4 a.m. on Sept. 18 on reports of a man was throwing rocks through business windows. Total damage was estimated at more than $8,000.


The next day, security officers saw St. John at the Hennepin County Government Center. He matched the description of the suspect, down to wearing the same clothes, the prosecutor’s office said. 


He was arrested that day, but was released after 36 hours because police said they needed more time to investigate the case.


Bashir Egal, who owns one of the vandalized businesses — $5 Pizza at Franklin Avenue and 2nd Avenue South — said the suspect had intended to damage his business.


“He did not come here to steal,” Bashir told Sahan Journal last week. “The motive of the guy was to cause harm.”


Abdirahman Awad, who manages Capitol Cafe, which had the most extensive damage, said Somali and non-Somali community members came to his cafe after the vandalism to show their support. Some of them donated money and bought sambusas along the way, he said.


“We got new clients who never came to our cafe before,” he said.


Abdirahman said he welcomes the charging of St. John.


“He is a danger to our community,” he said.

Mukhtar M. Ibrahim is the founder, editor and executive director of Sahan Journal, a nonprofit news organization dedicated to chronicling the struggles, successes and transformations of Minnesota’s immigrant and refugee communities.


He previously worked as a staff writer for the Star Tribune and Minnesota Public Radio News. He has also written for the St. Paul Pioneer Press, Al Jazeera English, BuzzFeed News and the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism.


Mukhtar is among the first of his generation’s professional, accomplished journalists of Somali background in Minnesota and in the country. His leadership has been recognized with many awards and accomplishments and is sought-after speaker and panelist at leading institutions, organizations and conferences around the United States.

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