In a sentencing hearing in Minnesota on Tuesday, Asma Jama looked directly at the woman who had smashed a glass in her face at a restaurant for speaking Swahili, telling her attacker she forgave her.
"My religion teaches me to forgive so I can get on with my life," Jama told Jodie Burchard-Risch, 44, of Ramsey, Minnesota. "If I hold a grudge, if I hold the hate you hold towards me against you, it’s not going to serve me well."
In October, 2015 Burchard-Risch approached Jama in an Applebee's in Coon Rapids, Minnesota, where Jama was dining with friends and conversing in Swahili, and told her to speak English or go back to her country.
When Jama told Burchard-Risch that she is a US citizen and speaks English fluently, Burchard-Risch smashed her beer mug in Jama's face and ran away. Jama required 17 stitches in her lip, Minnesota Public Radio reported.
Burchard-Risch pled guilty to assault, and on Tuesday she was sentenced in Anoka County Court to six months in prison with up to five years of probation.
"I just wanted to say that I'm happy it's over," Jama told the court, growing tearful. "I used to be a carefree person and now I can't go anywhere by myself."
"Jodie, what you did to me that day wasn’t good," Jama told her attacker. "You should never do anything like that to anybody. But I just wanted to tell you in front of everybody today that I do forgive you."
Neither Jama nor Burchard-Risch immediately returned BuzzFeed News' request for comment.
Minnesota has a high population of Somali immigrants and citizens, and has seen a high rate of hate crimes.
Here are Asma Jama's full remarks:
What happened to me on that day is unacceptable it shouldn't happen to anybody else ... I used to be a carefree person and now I can't go anywhere by myself. It really impacted my life for the good and for the bad too. I just wanted... I just wanted to say that I'm happy it's over. It's been a long year.
I am a strong person I will keep fighting, what happened to me should not happen in the state of Minnesota, should not happen just because you're different.
Jodie, what you did to me that day wasn’t good. You should never do anything like that to anybody. But I just wanted to tell you in front of everybody today that I do forgive you.
My religion teaches me to forgive so I can get on with my life. If I hold a grudge, if I hold the hate you hold towards me against you, it’s not going to serve me well. So, in front of everybody here, I do forgive you and I hope that you choose love over hate.
I really do because it makes your life easier. Having hate just eats at you, it’s not good. I hope you find what you’re looking for at the end of your journey. I know you’ve had just as long of a year as I’ve had.
My intentions toward you are not bad. I don’t have any ill feelings towards you. 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.
I am an American citizen and I would fight for it today as much as you would. So I just want you to understand you hit somebody you didn’t know anything about. I do speak English, I speak very well English, I work every single day just like you do, Jodie.
So I hope you learn at the end of all this we are all the same, there’s no difference between me and you.
Ema O'Connor is a politics reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Washington, DC.
Contact Ema O'Connor at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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