WDAZ: Your Home Team

Published December 23, 2010, 09:57 PM

Sudan, Liberia Elders Discuss Moorhead Bowling Center Brawl

The fight last weekend in Moorhead was not the first time tension has emerged between youthful Sudanese and Liberians in the area.

By: Dave Roepke, INFORUM

The fight last weekend in Moorhead was not the first time tension has emerged between youthful Sudanese and Liberians in the area.

There was a brawl at a Sudanese celebration at the Fargodome in 2008 involving both groups, and a concern about out-of-town Liberians looking to instigate fights in 2009.

On both occasions, leaders in the close-knit local communities were able to help stamp down the tensions.

After the melee outside a bowling alley early Sunday morning, a chaotic scene involving up to 100 people that led to three minor injuries, they’re hoping to be peacemakers again.

Elders in the local Sudanese and Liberian populations met Wednesday to talk about how to respond, said Pierre Atilio-Ekwa, a native of Sudan and executive director of the Multicultural Parent Teacher Association.

They agreed to seek out the source of the conflict at Sunset Lanes, where Atilio-Ekwa said a birthday party was being held.

“We know their families. We can go to them,” he said. In 2008, for instance, elders helped pinpoint the turbulence to disagreement over a girl who had dated both a Liberian boy and a Sudanese boy, he said.

The Liberian elder at Wednesday’s meeting, Jim Gurupi, didn’t return a message seeking comment.

Officer Cristie Jacobsen, the cultural liaison officer for Fargo police, said the two ethnic groups have a solid track record of collaboration.

“They are quick to work together to come up with a community response,” she said. “This isn’t the first time we’ve interacted with this sort of thing.”

Atilio-Ekwa said any information would be turned over to law enforcement and within a week or two, the communities plan to host a public meeting to address issues facing them and other New Americans.

Jacobsen said while the fights among a handful of “troublemakers” from both Sudan and Liberia have escalated over the past few months, the two communities are really quite close.

“I think it’s a youth issue,” Jacobsen said.

Fargo-Moorhead’s population of Sudanese is about 800 to 1,000, while the Liberians number from 400 to 500, she said. They often live, worship and shop in the same spots, attending each other’s weddings and funerals, Jacobsen said.

Moorhead cops have said it will take some time to investigate the large fight, which required city police from Fargo and Dilworth, county deputies and state troopers to break up. The focus will be on what happened that evening, not on ongoing tensions, Lt. Tory Jacobson said Monday.

One challenge police face in investigating crimes in New American communities is a mistrust of their authority, Jacobsen said.

“In their home countries, the police were not their friends. They were the most corrupt,” she said. “We have to build that bond and trust within the communities.”

Establishing trust with law enforcement is important, Atilio-Ekwa said. But further engaging the New American communities in society, such as bolstering avenues to better jobs, is a key long-term goal, he said.

“I don’t defend them,” he said of brawling Sudanese and Liberian youths. However, he added, “They don’t see any models.”