FARGO, N.D. — Resettlement advocates in North Dakota are organizing training for a rapid response team to help refugees deal with threatening incidents like one last month that was captured in an online video.

The video showed a Fargo-area woman, Amber Hensley, telling three Muslim women sitting in a car in a Walmart parking lot that “we’re going to kill all of you.” The three women are originally from Somalia. Hensley later apologized and reconciled with two of the women in a meeting set up by Fargo’s police chief.

Organizers of the rapid response unit say many refugees who are victims of verbal abuse don’t know where to turn, and often the incidents go unreported. They’re hoping to have the volunteer team in place within a month, said Barry Nelson, a member of the North Dakota Human Rights Coalition.

“We are getting our training module put together and schedule set up,” Nelson said. “It’s just a matter of getting the pieces put in place.”

Hukun Abdullahi, a leader of the Somali American community in the Fargo area, believes the project will help victims of hate crimes while educating people about the problem. He is helping to find one leader from each of the other ethnic communities to join the team.

“I think it can make a difference,” Abdullahi said. “Even people who have hate inside of them, they know now they can come and reach out to us and say, ‘I want to know who you are.'”

The response team is part of a campaign by three groups that are trying to shed a light on hate crimes. Nelson said a short-term grant is helping to get the project off the ground, but the groups are still looking for money to “keep it organized moving forward.”

While plans for the team were already in place before the parking lot video, Nelson and Rachel Hoffman, chairwoman of the Fargo Human Rights Commission, said it has illustrated the problem and the need to get the unit in place as quickly as possible.

“It’s relatively sad that it has to be a viral video to show people that it is happening,” Hoffman said. “I’m glad it brought attention to what is going on. It’s less of a blind eye when it is just sitting there staring you in the face and you can see it happening.”

Nelson said the incident likely bolstered the turnout at a rally last week promoting tolerance in Fargo.

“For sure it created controversy,” Nelson said. “Any time something like that happens you have people landing on both sides of the argument. I think the response to the rally we had last week indicates to me that people truly want to do something about this.”

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DAVE KOLPACK
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