More than a year after a stranger smashed a glass in her face for speaking Swahili at a Minnesota Applebee’s restaurant, Asma Jama forgave her attacker and urged her to “choose love over hate.”
“My religion teaches me to forgive so I can get on with my life,” Jama told Jodie Burchard-Risch at a sentencing hearing in Anoka County Court on Tuesday. “If I hold a grudge, if I hold the hate you hold towards me against you, it’s not going to serve me well.”
According to Minnesota Public Radio, Burchard-Risch and her husband were dining at the restaurant in Coon Rapids in October 2015 when they became irritated by Jama and her family speaking Swahili in the booth next to theirs. Jama reported to police that the couple then told them to “go home” and said, “When you’re in America, you should speak English.”
Jama, an ethnic Somali and U.S. citizen who has lived in Minnesota since 2000, responded by saying, “I can speak English, but we choose to speak whatever language we want.”
Burchard-Risch then hit Jama in the face with a beer mug, sending her to the hospital with a gash in her lower lip that required 17 stitches.
Burchard-Risch, 44, pleaded guilty to charges of assault and, on Tuesday, received a six-month prison sentence with up to five years’ probation.
An October report by the Minneapolis Star Tribune on the FBI’s response to the statewide rise in crimes targeting Muslims, noted that, since her attack, Jama had become involved with a nonprofit called Voice of East African Women. The group works with federal law enforcement officials to encourage more victims to report their own experiences like Jama did.
Though she said she was “happy it’s over,” Jama also vowed to “keep fighting.”
“What happened to me on that day is unacceptable. It shouldn’t happen to anybody else,” Jama said at Tuesday’s hearing, noting, “I used to be a carefree person, and now I can’t go anywhere by myself.”
Addressing Burchard-Risch directly, Jama said, “What you did to me that day wasn’t good. You should never do anything like that to anybody.” But, she assured her attacker, “My intentions toward you are not bad.
“I don’t have any ill feelings towards you,” Jama said. “I just want you to understand at the end of all this that we are all the same. It doesn’t matter what’s on my head, it doesn’t matter the color of my skin — we are all the same human beings, we are fighting for the same rights.”