East African / Somali

Below are categories for questions that have been answered by community members. Keep in mind that the following responses may represent many members of this group but do not represent all people in a community. Not all people from diverse populations conform to commonly known culture-specific behaviors, beliefs and actions. Each person is an individual, as well as a community member.

What cultural / ethnic / religious traditions or beliefs should law enforcement be aware of?

  • Families traditionally live in multi-generational households.
  • They are part of the Muslim community.
  • In Islam, prayer is performed five times a day: at dawn, noon, mid-afternoon, sunset, and in the evening. Prayer can take place at home, at school, in the workplace, outdoors, or in a mosque.
  • In the Somali Community, elders are seen as mediators
  • Elders feel they have lost their role as problem solvers and are not respected by law enforcement.

What is the appropriate manner to greet you? (demeanor, non-verbal, body space, handshake, bow, male-female interaction etc.)

  • It is disrespectful to use the index finger to call someone. Instead, use an open hand/palm to call someone.
  • Traditionally, men and women do not touch members of the opposite sex outside the family, such as shaking hands. According to Islamic tradition, women are expected to cover their bodies, including their hair.
  • The Somali language is spoken universally by most Somali people, with Arabic spoken as a common second language. Be aware of language barriers; speak slowly and recognize you may need to repeat yourself. Ask the individual to repeat the information or paraphrase to ensure the message has been conveyed.

Who should be addressed or acknowledged first? Who is the head of the household?

  • When visiting a Somali household, ask to speak with the head of the household. The parents are the decision-makers for the family.
  • Address elder first. Ask for permission to engage with child.
  • Youth may help with translation, but elders should still be acknowledged.
  • If a women answers, allow time for her to cover.

What is your view / perception of law enforcement? What are your experiences with law enforcement?

  • Many refugees are afraid of the police due to abuses faced in Somalia.
  • Youth often distrust law enforcement because they feel they are profiled and harassed.
  • Most feel targeted for being Muslim.
  • The community feels that law enforcement is culturally insensitive, and they are unfairly stereotyped, which creates confrontational and hostile environments.