COON RAPIDS, Minn. — Her attacker smashed a beer mug into her face for speaking another language.
The blow cut deep into her skin, tearing away bits of flesh that left physical wounds requiring 17 stitches — and a psychological wound that left her fearful of living in Minnesota, she said.
Yet on Tuesday, Asma Jama forgave the woman who attacked her.
“In front of everybody here, I do forgive you, and I hope that you choose love over hate,” Jama said to Jodie Marie Burchard-Risch, who was sentenced Tuesday in Anoka County District Court.
Burchard-Risch, 44, of Ramsey, pleaded guilty in October to third-degree assault in the attack, which took place in 2015 inside an Applebee’s restaurant in Coon Rapids.
On Tuesday, Judge Nancy J. Logering sentenced her to 180 days in jail, five years of probation, and mandatory alcohol testing and treatment, according to court documents. Prosecutors have said they declined to charge her with a hate crime because the penalties actually would have been less severe, given the injuries she caused Jama.
Jama, an ethnic Somali who speaks English, Somali and Swahili, came to Minnesota from Kenya in 2000. On Oct. 30, 2015, she was inside the Applebee’s, wearing a hijab and speaking Swahili, according to her account and court documents. Burchard-Risch and her husband, who were seated in the next booth, became upset that Jama “was speaking in a foreign language,” according to a criminal complaint.
Restaurant managers tried to get Burchard-Risch to leave, but she yelled and threw her drink on Jama. She then “smashed a beer mug across (Jama’s) face in a ‘round house punch’ motion and fled,” the complaint states. Burchard-Risch pleaded guilty but maintained that she threw the mug, rather than delivered it as an extension of a punch. Jama required 17 stitches to her nose, eyebrow and lower lip.
Burchard-Risch declined to speak Tuesday. But Jama did, according to courtroom video from local TV stations.
“What you did to me that day wasn’t good. You should never do anything like that to anybody,” Jama said in comments recorded by WCCO-TV.
“I don’t have any ill feelings toward you. I just want you — at the end of all this — to understand 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,” Jama said in comments taped by KARE-TV.
Following the attack, Jama said she felt scared to stay in Minnesota, but she has since said her outlook has improved — albeit only somewhat.
“I used to be a carefree person and now I can’t go anywhere by myself,” she said.
Burchard-Risch’s attorney, Rodd Tschida, told the judge, in part: “I don’t see her as a lunatic. I don’t see her as a racist. I see her as someone, not unlike many others that come before the court, that has an alcohol problem that brought her here.”