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A Roundtable Discussion About Being Black And An Immigrant In The U.S. Right Now

A group of demonstrators march towards downtown San Diego, May 31, 2020.
Mike Damron
A group of demonstrators march towards downtown San Diego, May 31, 2020.
KPBS hosted a virtual roundtable with three black men from immigrant communities, to hear their thoughts on a difficult time to be black and an immigrant in America.

The black immigrant community in San Diego has been under intense stress over these last few weeks. As protests continue over the abuse of black people by police, the flagging economy has led the White House to propose even further restrictions on immigration.

KPBS reporter Max Rivlin-Nadler hosted a virtual roundtable with three black men from immigrant communities, to hear their thoughts on this trying time.

They include:


— Sedrick Murhula, a refugee advocate and community organizer, currently a Youth Program Coordinator at Jewish Family Service

— Ahmad Mahmuod , a student activist and UC Berkeley student, currently a youth organizer at United Women of East Africa

— Mohamed Abdi, program coordinator at United Women of East Africa

A Roundtable Discussion About Being Black And An Immigrant In The U.S. Right Now

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Q: What’s different or not different about the video of George Floyd’s death from other acts of police brutality? Why did it lead to such widespread protests?


Murhula: For me, it felt like a public execution. It’s really dehumanizing in a way that it shows how much you’re nothing. You are less, you can do nothing.

Mahmuod: I think black folks in this country are tired of being told how to go about dismantling their own oppression, and I think this is their way of letting America know enough is enough.

Abdi: The officer’s demeanor when he had that knee on the gentleman’s neck. It was like he didn’t care. It was so nonchalant. He had his hands in his pockets. That just outraged so many people. It just sent a message that this man’s life doesn’t even matter.

Q: What are the demands of protesters this week?

Murhula: Police brutality has got to stop. People are so tired in 21st century to be treated that way. But also police reforms need to be put in pace, so at least we can have a country that respects human rights. For me, that’s beyond just police brutality. That’s a human rights violation.

Mahmuod: We want to see the defunding of police department. It’s ridiculous that during this climate of our country, mayors like San Diego’s mayor, Kevin Faulconer, are asking the City Council to increase the budget by $20-plus million dollars for the San Diego Police Department. It’s utterly crazy and ridiculous we’re spending more money on policing than anything else in this city.

Abdi: We have law enforcement always come into our communities saying that they want to build connections, they want to build bridges. Well how? How can law enforcement possibly do that?

Q: What’s difficult at this time about being both black in America and an immigrants?

Murhula: This is the issue of skin color. Before even a police officer hears my accent or knows where I’m from, he sees my color. And once he sees my color, I’m profiled. Once he sees my color, I’m targeted. That’s the problem of day-to-day struggles of African immigrants and refugees living in this country. This is a level of paranoia and being scared and hopelessness.

RELATED: Racial Injustice Ignites Protests Across San Diego

Mahmuod: My mom said it best when she was living back in Somalia, she didn’t have to worry about her brothers or her cousins leaving the house and have to think about their death or them possibly dying, even though they were living during a time where people were senselessly murdered for whatever reason. Today, every day we leave the house, every day my brothers leave the house, every day my dad leaves the house, we have to say we love each other, we have to say, this might be our last goodbye.

Abdi: Our community members come to America to seek a better life. But then they’re being killed or watching other members or other people be killed. It also leads them to not contact law enforcement, they’re not going to trust law enforcement if crimes are being done to them in the community, those crimes will just continue because if they call law enforcement, there’s that thought in the back of their mind that they might be killed. Calling law enforcement in our communities can lead to the death of a family member or the death of ourselves.

Q: How can white people support immigrant and black communities?

Murhula: What I’ve been telling white folks to do is speak about it. It doesn’t cost anything to say this is wrong. Justice needs to be done. Post something on social media that shows that this is wrong. And making sure your voice is heard. Some white folks try to be quiet or neutral because they don’t want to be a part of it, but to me, that’s just a slap in the face. Because if you’re neutral, you’re still against me, because you can’t say anything about what’s going on.

Abdi:This entire time all we’ve been having is dialogue with no action behind it. People actually need to come and confront these biases and confront racism.

Mahmuod: They should be on the front lines. They should be the people in the front, who are locking their arms up and protecting black and other POC protestors that are there. If you can’t attend a protest, that’s fine, if you can’t attend a protest, that’s fine, but what you can do for the moment is read a book. Read an article. You can have discussions with your family members.

Q: Can you describe some of the work that you’re doing in this community?

Abdi: We have a place where a young man can come, they can seek peer-to-peer support, drop-in support, where they can build community. It’s one thing that black students are being expelled at much higher rates, but they’re also the victims of being gagged. Essentially, they can’t talk about their oppression, they can’t voice the harms that are being done to them. They’re not allowed to express any of that stuff without the threat of being removed from the educational setting.

United Women of East Africa is a San Diego nonprofit providing health services, education and advocacy for the well-being of the East African community, women and families. It operates the East African Cultural and Community Center in City Heights and offers programs and services with the goal of responding to the overlooked health needs of East African women and their families.

Jewish Family Service’s refugee resettlements programs help families enroll their children in school, gain proficiency in English, find work and access community resources like continuing education.