Former Sheriff Bob Fletcher launches Center for Somalia History Studies

Former Ramsey County Sheriff Bob Fletcher has kept a pretty low profile since he lost the election back last November. He returned to his post as a watch commander with the St. Paul police, surfacing only occasionally to field criticism of how he ran the department as his successor settled in.

Now he's back in the news with the launch of a surprising project.

"When I lost the election, I really had a couple projects I'd wanted to do," he says. "This was one of them."

Just after he lost the election to current Sheriff Matt Bostrom, Fletcher says he started studying Somali history and culture. He says the inspiration came from his years working with the Hmong community on gang issues and the relative success he had with community outreach.

"Within the Somali community I was hearing the same concerns, the same message that I'd heard from the Hmong parents 10 year previous," he says. "It struck me that this is just history repeating itself."

So Fletcher crafted the idea for the Center for Somalia History Studies, which he incorporated less than a month ago. The center is holding its first event on November 10, called "Understanding the People of Somalia." The first half of the six-hour event will be a lecture on the history of Somalia and its conflicts, the second half will focus more on terrorism, Al-Shabab, khat, youth gangs and the Somali experience in America. The target audience, Fletcher says, are white Minnesotans who may have no understanding of Somali history, though he's been getting interest from Somali youth as well.

In addition to Fletcher, speakers include Omar Jamal, the former head of the Somali Justice Action Center, the current director, Dahir Jibreel, and Abdirizak Bihi, the head of the Somali Education and Social Advocacy center.

Jibreel says Fletcher came to him with the idea for the center nearly a year ago, and that he doesn't think Fletcher's outsider status in the community will hinder him as he moves forward with his plan.

"He has tremendous information about the community and I don't think it will be a problem for him," he says.

The seminar is $150 a head and will take place at the Crown Plaza Hotel in St. Paul.

Because the former sheriff can't seem to do anything without controversy, it's already been pointed out that he's wearing his sheriff's uniform in the event's flier, which Ramsey County Sheriff's spokesman Randy Gustafson says is improper. The event is not sponsored by the sheriff's department, nor by the St. Paul police department.

Still, Fletcher has high hopes for the event. He says he's reached out to law enforcement and government contacts, and employers like Ecolab and Target. He hopes attendance will be between 150 and 200 people. He says he can see a need for this type of seminar all over the country in cities with Somali communities.

"We don't know where this is going to go," he says. "Part of this is trying to predict the level of interest."

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