MANKATO — In Somalia, where Amina Salim was born, there was basically one reaction regular citizens had when a police officer came looking for you: get out of sight as quickly as possible.
That was the same reaction a group of her immigrant friends initially had one day while eating lunch in the East High School cafeteria a few years ago. Tom Rother, a Mankato police liaison officer at the time, walked toward her table to talk to Salim and her friends. Everyone around her got up and scattered quickly. They didn't realize she had developed a relationship with Rother and considered him a friend.
"Back in Somalia, the officers are so mean," she said. "You don't want to stand next to them. They will beat you. In any African culture you don't just invite police officers over to have tea and just talk to them like regular people."
Now Salim is well known by many of the officers in the department. She has also helped break down barriers between police officers, refugees and other Mankato citizens through the Tapestry Project, a program created in Mankato being highlighted as one of the main reasons the city will be honored with a Community Policing Award Monday.
Representatives from the International Association of Chiefs of Police and Cisco will travel to Mankato to present the award, which was for cities with populations between 20,000 and 50,000.
Those barriers weren't easy to get through, said Cmdr. Amy Vokal of the Department of Public Safety. When the project was first started through a collaboration between the department, Lloyd Management and the Minnesota Council of Churches Refugee Services, there wasn't much interest.
It took awhile for organizers to figure out they would have to deal with transportation and child care issues before members of the city's Somalian and Sudanese communities would be able to participate. They also learned they would have to let those citizens set the agenda for meetings.