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Somali youth became symbol of race crimes

By Mike Dougherty

The Post-Bulletin

Abdulkadir Ali doesn’t linger long when he catches a glimpse of his image in a mirror.

It’s been that way for 10 years, as he grew through adolescence and into adulthood.

Ten years is the time that has elapsed since a gang of white teenagers and young adults smashed his mouth with baseball bats.

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"I lost my smile," he says.

And 10 teeth. He stifles a once-glowing smile, protectively guarding the gaps where teeth once were.

He was 12 years old at the time.

"I remember seeing these guys come around, but I just turned my back and kept playing," he says. "I mean, I’m only a kid, I hadn’t done anything wrong. Then ..."

Ali does not finish the sentence. What happened then was an assault so brutal and alarming that it stirred Rochester, as well as others statewide, to demand a frontal assault on race-related crimes. An anti-racism campaign rose from the outrage. Three of the men involved in the attack were sent to prison.

Ali has not spoken publicly or in detail about the assault, what happened afterward or what he struggles with today.

He lives with his cousin in Rochester. His days are filled with a job search, a visit to his probation officer, time studying for his general equivalency degree and, when the weather’s nice, soccer.

After the assault, Ali spent time in foster care. It took several years before someone suggested he receive counseling to deal with the assault, he says.

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"I was sent home from the hospital the day after I was beaten up," he says. "No one even suggested counseling to me or my family. I had nightmares. I still do sometimes now."

Ten years and much has happened to the young boy who came to the United States in 1994 from war-torn Somalia.

After the assault, he testified in court against the men. A prosecutor said at the time that Ali’s "primary reason for being assaulted was he was the smallest at the time, the slowest, and frankly in the eyes of this defendant and the people who were with him, he matched the most important criteria. In their eyes, he had the wrong skin color."

Ali says he has put his anger about the assault behind him and gone back to evaluating people on an individual basis.

"Those guys never apologized," he says. "But not everyone is that way."

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