Staff Directory 6370441

Maya Rao

Reporter | Race and Immigration
Phone: 612-673-4210

Maya Rao covers race and immigration for the Star Tribune.

Rao wrote for The Press of Atlantic City and The Philadelphia Inquirer before moving to Minnesota in January 2012. She previously covered the federal government for the Star Tribune.
Recent content from Maya Rao
Sher Mohammad Mulakhail, seen with his daughters, including Maryam, 5, says the family has adjusted after moving to a two-bedroom apartment in Bloomin

Bloomington family helps newer Afghan arrivals as they build life in U.S.

The Mulakhails knew how hard it could be to start over in America. They believed it was their duty to help those now fleeing the Taliban.
Amina Baha, left, and Nasreen Sajady embraced during a vigil Saturday at Loring Park.

In Minnesota, Afghan woman struggles to help stranded relatives

From Blaine, she imagined how hard it would be for them to start over, having been upper class in Kabul.
Tyrice Cagle, a community intervention worker, was greeted by officer Abel Estopin before a movie night at a Los Angeles park.

L.A., Atlanta wrestle with calls for permanent police reform

More than a year after George Floyd's killing, Los Angeles' commitment to lasting change is being tested.
Winston Boogie Smith was fatally shot June 3.

Winston Smith raised phone, not gun, says woman in car with him

Their claim contradicts that of authorities, who say he was shot after showing a weapon.
Attorney Jeff Storms spoke to the media with Kidale Smith, brother of Winston Smith, by his side, on June 10 in Minneapolis.

Death of Winston Smith puts spotlight on low-profile agency

Amid a national push for police accountability, critics now are questioning the often-secret actions of the U.S. Marshals Service, including why and how it oversaw the operation that resulted in Smith's death in Minneapolis.
The scene Tuesday near W. Lake Street and S. Fremont Avenue, near where Deona Knajdek and Winston Smith were killed.

'It could have been me,' witnesses to Sunday crash at protest site say

Sunday's episode shocked protesters and gave them a renewed determination to keep pressing for racial justice in policing.
LaTonya Floyd collected herself during a George Floyd Memorial Garden Dedication in the Third Ward of Houston on May 23, 2021. The garden in located a

George Floyd's friends seek to build a living legacy in his hometown

In Houston's Third Ward, his presence is everywhere.
Attorney Jeff Storms spoke to the media Thursday with Kidale Smith, brother of Winston Smith, by his side.

Attorneys for woman in Winston Smith's car: She didn't see a gun

Activists demanded that law enforcement be more transparent and be held to account. The BCA reiterated its claim that Smith fired a gun before being killed.
Protesters against police killings observed a moment of silence Saturday to recognize victims of community gun violence, including the three children

Protesters take fight for police accountability to Uptown

Scrutiny over Winston Smith's killing comes as Uptown reels from a rash of business closures, lootings and crime — and the scars of a mass shooting last summer that killed one and injured 11.
Protesters took part in the Assata Shakur chant during Saturday night’s protest near the site of where Winston Smith was fatally shot by law enforce

Protesters gather for third night at site of Uptown police shooting

On Saturday night, a crowd converged on W. Lake Street outside the parking garage where Winston Smith was killed and blocked off the street.
Three people were fatally shot Saturday night in different parts of Minneapolis, two of them struck by stray bullets while watching illegal street rac

3 fatally shot overnight in Mpls.; officer wounds suspect

The deaths of a man and a woman in separate incidents brought the number of homicides in the city to 37 for the year.
Protesters were arrested early Saturday after a vigil for Winston Boogie Smith Jr. on Friday night in the Uptown area of Minneapolis.

BCA: Man shot, killed by police had fired from inside vehicle

Authorities said there is no video of the shooting of the man identified as Winston Boogie Smith, 32, in the Uptown area of Minneapolis. Grief mixed with anger for his family.
Kimberly Hewitt worked at the Brunch Box in the Third Ward of Houston. Hewitt lost her son to gun violence in 2020.

Death is painfully familiar in Floyd's old neighborhood

The epidemic of deaths in Houston's Third Ward is even more painful after the killing of George Floyd, who was a mentor and friend to many.
Texas Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee and George Floyd’s sisters LaTonya Floyd and Zsa Zsa Floyd led a balloon release as a tribute to George Floyd

In George Floyd's hometown, anniversary marked with prayers and resolve

The Houston neighborhood where Floyd spent much of his life marked the day with a deeply personal sense of hope and loss.
George Floyd’s niece Bianca Williams got hugs from Marissa Scott. 30, and Alvina McThenney, 43, of Palm Bay, Fla. The two women work as traveling nu

Nearly 1,200 miles away, reckoning has been constant for Floyd family

George Floyd's family and friends find themselves sorting what roles to take on as the world looks to them to make sense of his life, death and legacy.
In this image from video, witness Donald Williams wiped his eyes as he answered questions during Derek Chauvin’s trial.

Bystander, key witness still reckoning with Floyd's death

The trauma of what Donald Williams saw one evening on May 25, 2020, has yet to recede. "I look somewhere else and it's like I'm always remembering," he said.
Tiffany Cofield visited George Floyd Square in Minneapolis on Wednesday. She drove George Floyd to the bus stop in Houston in February 2017 as he set

George Floyd's Texas friend seeks solace in Minneapolis

She hadn't wanted to come to Minnesota, but she needed to make peace with her friend's death.
At George Floyd Square on Tuesday, people celebrated the convictions of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin in Floyd’s death.

Chauvin verdict seen as moment of victory in a history of injustice

It was far from a unanimous moment of elation, but many racial equality advocates took a moment to soak in what they saw as a rare instance of justice for Black Americans.
Protesters marched outside the Hennepin Government Center, on Monday, April 19, after the Derek Chauvin trial went to the jury for deliberations.

Outside courthouse, protesters press for a guilty verdict

Angel Smith-El admitted that she had some anxiety waiting for the jury to reach a verdict in the trial of Derek Chauvin.Standing outside the Hennepin…
Aubrey Rhodes, a security guard at the Salvation Army Harbor Light Center, is seen in November 2020. In recent weeks Rhodes has tried to catch up on t

At Minneapolis shelter where George Floyd worked, pain runs deep

Frankie Powell still remembers how George Floyd would stop by the Salvation Army Harbor Light Center to joke and catch up with old friends.He cannot…
Sinthanouxay Khottavongsa died in 2015 after after Brooklyn Center police hit him with a Taser in 2015.

Retraumatized family of man killed in 2015 Brooklyn Center police encounter calls for change

Kevin Khottavongsa's father died in 2015 after Brooklyn Center police shot him in the back with a Taser.
Minneapolis police officers check a damaged building on Lake Street early Monday, April 12, after Brooklyn Center Police fatally shot 20-year-old Daun

Twin Cities business owners jolted, prepare again for unrest

Twin Cities business owners hurt during last summer's riots prepare again for unrest
Divine Mohammad, a former addict and recovery coach at Turning Point, says he knew that George Floyd’s use of drugs would be used to malign his char

Recovering clients see drug use stigmatized in Chauvin trial

For some men at Turning Point, where George Floyd attended a 90-day treatment program in 2017, the focus on his drug use is an example of how chemical dependency among African Americans can be disproportionately stigmatized and used to justify their mistreatment.
As a freshman in the Minnesota Legislature, activist John Thompson said he doesn’t expect widespread popularity.

Activist turned Minnesota lawmaker 'unapologetic' about fighting racism in the shadow of Chauvin trial

Rep. John Thompson wants to use the legislative system to prevent another death in police custody.
Morries Hall, who was with George Floyd on May 25, has invoked the Fifth Amendment to avoid testifying.

Floyd's passenger emerges as complicated figure in Chauvin trial

Though Chauvin's attorney had told jurors that they would hear from passengers in the car who saw Floyd use drugs, Morries Lester Hall is avoiding testifying.
Bridgett Floyd and members of Visual Black Justice helped pack produce boxes for families at a Salvation Army location on Lake Street on Thursday, Apr

George Floyd's sister spends day volunteering, keeping her mind off trial

She gave away food at the Salvation Army food shelf on E. Lake Street. It was the type of service George Floyd knew well.
Attorney Ben Crump left, Rev Al Sharpton and Brandon Williams nephew of George Floyd took a knee for 8:46 at the Hennepin County Government Center at

Trauma relived as Derek Chauvin's trial unfolds before the world

The world took a front-row seat to the murder trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin on Monday.
Rep. John Thompson, right, hugged the Rev. Jerry McAfee, pastor of New Salem Baptist Church, during a prayer service for George Floyd’s family Sunda

Jurors will consider George Floyd's death — not issue of race

In a case that has become a flashpoint for racial justice in America, the testimony and evidence will focus on a narrow set of facts about the evening that then-officer Derek Chauvin knelt on the neck of George Floyd.
Rogen Abdalla, left, and her sister Rawan Abdalla of Minneapolis joined protesters outside the Hennepin County Government Center on March 15.

Chauvin trial marks defining moment in U.S. racial history

What began 10 months ago at the corner of 38th Street and Chicago Avenue has transformed into nothing less than an American reckoning on justice, racial equity, the role of law enforcement and the historical wrongs perpetrated on Black people.
Guards admitted people one at a time at the only pedestrian entrance to the Hennepin County Courthouse on Day 2 of the trial of former Minneapolis pol

Police misconduct cases weigh on former jurors

The experiences of jurors offer a window into the complex decisions facing the jury in former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin's murder trial in George Floyd's death.
Philonise Floyd, George Floyd’s brother, put his hand on the spot where George died near 38th Street and Chicago Avenue as he visited the site Frida

Mpls. pays $27M to settle suit with George Floyd's family

The civil case against the city is separate from the ongoing criminal trial of former officer Derek Chauvin. Attorneys for the family called it the "largest pretrial settlement in a civil rights wrongful death case in U.S. history."
Courteney Ross and her goddaughter Ireony Farmer, 20, visited a mural near George Floyd Square at the intersection of Chicago Avenue and East 38th Str

30 years after Rodney King, friends of George Floyd see parallels in Chauvin trial

Video recorded by bystanders delivered images that shook the public then and now.
Farji  Shaheer, left, co-founder of Next Step, visited gunshot victim Lamar Smith at Hennepin County Medical Center.

Next Step goes to the front lines of gun violence in Minneapolis, starting with the shooting victims

Advocate helps gunshot victims recover, avoid retaliation.
“We are running away from death and war ... but here it seems like it’s the same thing,” said Machozi Rashidi, a Congolese mother of six who lef

Lucky to land visas, family arrives in St. Paul at challenging time

As the pendulum swings back to a more open U.S. refugee policy, the trickle of families who arrived during the Trump era face unprecedented challenges finding work, schooling and assistance during a pandemic.
President Joe Biden signs a series of executive orders in the Oval Office of the White House, Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan

Biden acts to reverse immigration restrictions, open up new pathways to citizenship

The president acted to preserve DACA and reverse the travel ban from Muslim-majority countries.
FILE - In this Jan. 9, 2020 file photo, Bernice King, daughter of slain civil rights leader Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., speaks about a series of even

Minnesota leaders on MLK Day call for 'bold social action'

The twin crises are opportunities for positive action, speakers said.
Deshann Sanchez, who founded Justice Frontline Aid, got some backpacks ready as she prepared to head to Kenosha in August.

Veterans of George Floyd protests say police restraint is reserved for white people

Many Black activists recalled the tear gas and police projectiles fired at peaceful protests in Minneapolis.
A protester was doused with milk after exposure to percussion grenades and tear gas at the Minneapolis 3rd Police Precinct.        ] CARLOS GONZALEZ �

Veterans of George Floyd protests say police restraint is reserved for white people

Many Black activists recalled the tear gas and police projectiles fired at peaceful protests in Minneapolis.
Meet the immigrant-owned businesses coming back from the brink on Lake Street

Meet the immigrant-owned businesses coming back from the brink on Lake Street

Highland Plaza is home to several immigrant-owned businesses, all of whom plan to reopen.
The death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police sparked a worldwide reckoning on race and police brutality.

George Floyd hoped moving to Minnesota would save him. What he faced here killed him.

A special report traces George Floyd's journey from his impoverished Houston neighborhood to a search for redemption in Minneapolis. Floyd didn't come here to change the world. He thought he was saving himself.
LesleyAnne Crosby of Minneapolis gathered with a small group of Black women in St. Paul to witness the possibility of Kamala Harris becoming the first

Enthusiasm for Kamala Harris is strong among Black women voters

Black women in the Twin Cities reflected on the historic nature of Harris' candidacy.
Suzanne and William Bengtson were photographed near their downtown apartment in Minneapolis in September.

Interracial Twin Cities couple undertake own private reckoning with race in America

Married for six years, the Bengtsons live in "different worlds."
Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison spoke earlier this month when faith and community leaders held an event this month to encourage voting.

Election weighs heavily on Minnesota immigrants, refugees

The fates of thousands of immigrants and refugees hinge on the presidential election, as President Donald Trump looks to continue his rollback of programs that…
Long Her, a Hmong refugee, voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016, but now he's considering voting for Trump after his business, New Fashions Tailoring & A

Riot-scarred business owners find sympathetic ear in Trump

Some Twin Cities entrepreneurs of color who suffered losses from the riots after George Floyd's death are wrestling with the political implications of Trump using their stories to blame Democrats for permitting the chaos.
Trump supporters craned their necks as they tried to get a look at the runway in Bemidji on Friday as they awaited the president's arrival.

Trump rally highlights tensions over race in Beltrami County

Discussions on race are happening against a backdrop of political divisions in a swing county that backed Obama and Trump.
President Donald Trump’s remarks at a campaign rally in Bemidji on Friday, Sept. 18, included both negative references to refugees and praise for th

Trump's 'good genes' comment at Bemidji rally draws backlash

Some heard echoes of language Nazis used to justify their genetic superiority and which led to the killing of 6 million Jews during the Holocaust.
The Department of Homeland Security logo hangs in San Diego during a news conference on October 26, 2017.

Immigrants fight end to temporary legal protections

Those holding Temporary Protected Status could lose their legal standing.
Lester Royal and Calvin Littlejohn, CEO of Tri-Construction, in north Minneapolis, where the firm is rebuilding a Family Dollar destroyed by riots.

Minority-owned firms seek leading role in rebuilding businesses damaged in riots

Yet obstacles still exist for contractors breaking into a white-dominated field.
An hour before curfew on Thursday, Aug. 27, South 8th Street in downtown Minneapolis was quiet.

Once-bustling downtown Minneapolis is casualty of pandemic, looting

Nearly six months into the pandemic, downtown remains largely empty, with at least 85% of the area's workforce still at home.
Protesters marched downtown to the Minneapolis Police Department's First Precinct in a solidarity rally and march for Jacob Blake that started in fron

Local activists head to Kenosha with lessons to share

Kenosha shooting leads some to Wisconsin, others to Hennepin Government Center
Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey, shown at a May news conference, has tried to reach out after George Floyd’s death.

Mayor Frey asks Black community for help after Floyd killing, unrest

Aides pushed for him to have a more visible presence out in the community, and the mayor has vowed to expand his connections.
Felicia Sy’s and other Black therapists’ offices were damaged during the unrest.

'They want to talk to somebody': Black therapists try to regroup after riots

Several Black therapists lost offices in riots as their clients needed them most.
Lwepaw Kacher was photographed at Wacouta Commons, across the street from Hope Community Church, the church she attends in St. Paul. A Karen refugee,

With COVID-19 surging, 'cultural broker' seeks to bridge the divide for Karen refugees

Such navigators are hired as trusted members of their communities who understand the cultural complexities that affect public health.
Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden's running mate Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., looks to him during a campaign event at

Mixed feelings about Kamala Harris from Minnesota progressives

Minnesota progressives tepid, but other Dems applaud historic ticket.
Gemechis Merga stood in the damaged remains of Rongo’s Auto Repair in Minneapolis. His insurer will cover a fraction of damages incurred in the riot

With half of losses not covered, gutted businesses plead for help

In the 5-mile stretch of Minneapolis that sustained the heaviest destruction, uninsured losses among local small-business owners are at least $200 million, according to the Lake Street Council.
Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board (MPRB) workers install new placards changing East and West Lake Calhoun Parkways to East and West Bde Maka Ska P

After Lake Calhoun, what about other Minn. place names with racist roots?

Numerous places are named in honor of Minnesota's first two governors, both of whom have complicated legacies.
Sabrina Seyf, owner of Sabrina's Bridal, worked with a bride-to-be in her store at Karmel Mall in Minneapolis.

Virus devastates Hmong, Somali and Latino malls in Twin Cities

The state Department of Employment and Economic Development is sorting through applications for $2.5 million in grants for operators of cultural malls, much of which could go toward forgiving rent for tenants.
The tipi is a place of refuge for women and children at the homeless encampment in Powderhorn Park: “I knew my people were here,” Tammey Skinaway

Hundreds living in Powderhorn Park, neighbors seek answers

The efforts by those living in the encampments to forge more hospitable surroundings come as public officials and homeless advocates raise alarms that the growing settlement is neither safe nor sustainable.
“It shouldn’t have taken so much death to get us here.” Kandace Montgomery, Black Visions Collective co-founder

Kandace Montgomery, who challenged Mayor Jacob Frey, has pushed for police defunding for years

Growing up as one of the few black people in rural Maine, Kandace Montgomery longed to escape.Kids picked on her. She had no black teachers…
“We know we need change, but you’re not going to leave me unprotected,” said Cathy Spann, executive director of Jordan Area Community Council. S

As N. Mpls. gun violence rises, neighbors wage a lonely fight

Neighbors, activists and community leaders are reckoning with how to ensure public safety at a time when many feel their security is shaken as much by police as it is by criminals.
Police Chief Medaria Arradondo and Minneapolis NAACP President Leslie Redmond at a memorial service for George Floyd.

Some Mpls. Black leaders speak out against council's moves to defund police

While the movement to defund the police has been driven by Black activists, others say that city politicians rushed the process and failed to include a police chief who has the backing of many Black residents.
Albert Lea in Freeborn County is named for a Confederate officer who surveyed southern Minnesota for the U.S. Army.

Albert Lea, Minn., considers ties to its Confederate namesake

Albert Lea, a Tennessean who served as a Confederate lieutenant colonel, surveyed parts of what became southern Minnesota in the 1830s. Many residents don't know about his past, but some activists are hoping to start a conversation about the city's name.
Keion Franklin was driving through north Minneapolis on Monday afternoon when dozens of gunshots rang out and he narrowly escaped injury. The shooting

On the North Side, residents question calls to defund police

"I'm scared if you defund the police … Is it going to turn into World War III over here?"
“It shouldn’t have taken so much death to get us here,” Kandace Montgomery, Black Visions Collective co-founder, said. She's seen at a 2015 news

Kandace Montgomery, who challenged Mayor Jacob Frey, has pushed for police defunding for years

Growing up as one of the few black people in rural Maine, Kandace Montgomery longed to escape. Kids picked on her. She had no black…
Elizabeth Carrillo shook broken glass from clothes after her Mercado Central store Paloma Fashion was looted.

After rioting, Midtown area, Mercado Central anchor hopes for Lake Street's future

Between Interstate 35W and Cedar Avenue, Minneapolis had one of the most thriving hubs for new immigrant communities.
U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar spoke at a rally on Saturday, June 6, which began which began at Bottineau Park in northeast Minneapolis.

Communities of color step up fight for justice in wake of George Floyd's killing

During George Floyd’s memorial service, Somali-Americans erected a large portrait of him down the street and offered passersby markers to write messages in his honor.…
The riots left destruction in their wake around Minnehaha Avenue and Lake St.

Riots, arson leave Minnesota communities of color devastated

Now, ethnically diverse neighborhoods are grappling with the loss of jobs, services and investments.
Ruby Wasco, 5, looks over the scene at an AutoZone in Minneapolis, which was torched during demonstrations following the death of George Floyd while i

A Minneapolis neighborhood expresses sadness, fear, resolve

They saw the stores they relied on for groceries and supplies smashed and burned. They saw fires that had smoldered for hours.

Sherbune County jail detainees plan hunger strike for release because of COVID-19

A federal judge recently rejected a petition for their emergency release during the pandemic.
Interpreter Lansa Dawano worked at the M Health Fairview call center to interpret the Oromo and Amharic languages for callers, Wednesday, May 20, 2020

A large percentage of Minnesota COVID-19 patients don't speak English

More than a fifth of COVID-19 patients interviewed by Health Department needed interpreters, heightening the need for interpreters.
Jessica Aguilar and her daughter Aviana Castro, 3.

Andover DACA recipient fearfully awaits Supreme Court decision in a time of coronavirus

Jessica Aguilar awaits a ruling that could cause hundreds of thousands of immigrants like her to lose legal protections.

Group rescued from Cloquet River after canoe capsizes

They were part of a larger group with three kayaks.
Rich Herman

Rich Herman, a gentle giant who worked in aviation, dies of COVID-19 at 66

He died soon after returning to his Rosemount home on April 8.
“They were saying go to the clinic even if you’re undocumented, especially if you’re presenting all the symptoms.” Clementina, who recovered f

Undocumented and struggling amid pandemic: 'This is a horrible situation'

Nonprofits are raising money to help Minnesota's more than 90,000 undocumented immigrants who don't qualify for government assistance during the pandemic.
Khadija Ali's interpreting company is seeing a major decline in business as face to face interactions are limited. She is banding together with other

Twin Cities' African immigrant community rallies to overcome quarantine hardships

Some worry they won't qualify for small-business loans meant to keep them afloat and help them recover.