By Mary Divine | firstname.lastname@example.org
Stillwater police are investigating a Muslim woman’s claim that she was harassed by white supremacists in downtown Stillwater on Saturday night.
Sophia Rashid, of Minneapolis, told police that she was eating dinner with her 4-year-old daughter on the outdoor patio at Leo’s Grill and Malt Shop in downtown Stillwater when a group of men wearing black leather vests displaying the words “Aryan Cowboy Brotherhood” walked by.
Rashid, who was wearing a hijab, said the men began pointing at her and making statements like “We’ve got our eye on you” and “We’re watching you,” according to police reports.
When her server came out with her bill, Rashid said she explained what was happening. In a Facebook post that has been shared more than 15,000 times, Rashid wrote that the young Leo’s employee, who was white, “snapped into action, recognizing the danger of the situation and the power/privilege her whiteness had in that very moment. She called over her friends/the other servers. They saw the Nazis and demanded I let them walk me to my car after I turned them down the first couple times they insisted.”
“These were teenagers who without a second thought demanded I let them put their bodies on the line as literal shields between me, my daughter and actual Nazis,” Rashid wrote. “I cannot thank them enough, nor can I adequately express the pure courage and ally-ship these girls had.”
The young women started walking Rashid and her daughter to their car, which was parked in the parking lot near Teddy Bear Park, but more motorcycle gang members came to the area, including members of the Outlaw Motorcycle Gang and Hell’s Angels, “in what felt like a coordinated effort to intimidate her,” the police report states.
Rashid took photos of the motorcyclists, and she and her daughter took refuge in the lobby of the Lora Hotel until police arrived around 9 p.m., the report states. An officer escorted Rashid and her daughter to their car and observed them safely get in and drive out of the area, according to the police report.
The incident is being reviewed by investigators of the Stillwater Police Department for potential criminal conduct.
“Stillwater, especially the downtown district, is a popular location for motorcyclists, including, on rare occasions, motorcycle gang members,” Police Chief John Gannaway said in a prepared statement. “Some motorcycle gangs wear insignia on their vests that is offensive to others. The Stillwater Police Department does monitor their activities when they are present and takes the appropriate action when criminal acts are committed. If we see an increase in motorcycle gang activity, we will increase our presence, utilizing other jurisdictions and entities if needed.”
Mayor Ted Kozlowski said Sunday that he also had reached out to the Washington County Sheriff’s Office and the Washington County Attorney’s Office to determine whether criminal charges are merited.
“We’re absolutely taking this seriously,” Kozlowski said. “We have to make sure that everybody feels safe in our town. We welcome everyone here, and we do not abide racism or discrimination of any sort.”
He praised the employees at Leo’s and Hotel Lora for stepping in to help Rashid.
“That absolutely demonstrates who we are in Stillwater,” he said. “These kids in our community stood up to this right away. They took action and did what I would expect everybody in our town to do when they see people threatened in our town.”
Kozlowski said he was in downtown Stillwater on Saturday night, but did not see any biker gangs. He said he has reached out to Rashid “to hear more about her experience and to assure her that she and her family are welcome here,” but had not heard back. She also did not immediately return a message left by the Pioneer Press.
“We’ve never had any incidents of bike gangs causing any issues in Stillwater,” Kozlowski said.
An employee at Ziggy’s Bar in downtown Stillwater told police that members of the Outlaw Motorcycle Gang may have been in town because a former gang member had allegedly been released from prison the night before. “The OMGs believed that ‘Taz’ may come to Stillwater,” the police report states. “The OMGs were planning on starting a confrontation with Taz due to some type of violation of the OMGs rules. Taz became aware of the OMGs presence and did not come to the Stillwater area.”