Community-driven and immigrant led hate crimes legislation still in committee at session end | By Martha Vickery (Spring 2021 issue)
A diverse coalition of faith groups, representatives of the LBGTQ-plus and trans community, and racial/ethnic immigrant community groups held a virtual press conference and story-telling event in March, in which participants explained, in painful detail, their experiences with hate, and advocated for a bill to improve the state’s technical and legal ability to recognize and successfully prosecute such crimes.
Carin Mrotz, executive director of Jewish Community Action, said that the Communities Combatting Hate Coalition has tracked how hate has been rising across country “and here in Minnesota, communities have been targeted by violence and intimidation.” Because of loopholes in state law and outdated training of law enforcement personnel, “many of these incidents have not been reported accurately or at all, making it hard to form a picture of what’s happening or to accurately form solutions for prevention of future attacks.”
The hate crimes legislation was introduced in spring 2020 by Rep. Frank Hornstein (DFL-Minneapolis). In March 2021, it passed in the House on a strict party-line vote. Sen. Ron Latz (D, who represents the western metro area) led the effort for the bill in the Republican-controlled Senate, where the Senate referred it to a conference committee. As of May 5, the bill was before the Joint Public Safety Judiciary Conference Committee as part of the Omnibus Public Safety bill (SF 970). There, the bill can be tabled, amended, or reworked as a compromise bill, after which it must then go back to each chamber for a vote.
Ron Latz, DFL lead for the conference committee, speaking 10 days before the end of the session, was not optimistic about the hate/bias crimes portion of the bill. At that point, the heat was on the conference committee for action on the police reforms component. On May 6, the committee took testimony on the reforms that would prevent police from making stops for minor law infractions, such as having an object hanging from the rearview mirror. Katie Wright was one of those who testified —- she is the mother of Daunte Wright, who was killed during a traffic stop by a Brooklyn Center police officer. Brandon Williams, nephew of George Floyd, also testified.
In terms of its likelihood of getting into the final conference committee report, Latz said “Honestly, I think most of the policy is probably going to fall away” when the group decides on a final version. According to Latz, the Senate conference committee chair, Republican Sen. Warren Limmer “is not interested in making any policy progress on things this year.” He has stated that his interest is only in policy decisions tied to the budget, Latz said.
The bill should have had a hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, and another hearing with a committee responsible for civil law, chaired by Republican Sen. Andrew Mathews, Latz said. Due to the Senate’s stance this year, the bill received no hearings.
“I would like to feel differently about this, but the gatekeepers are Sen. Limmer and Sen. Mathews,” Latz said. “In comparison to some of the more specific police reform proposals, it is competing for limited oxygen in the room.”
Latz headed up the push to get anti-bias provisions voted into law five years ago, which was difficult, he said. This time, he said, he is noticing that “some of the resistance on the GOP side of the committee is because some don’t think these crimes really exist,” Latz explained. “Sen. [Bill] Ingebrigtsen went so far as to say he doesn’t think this is an issue, relating to Asian Americans in particular. And there are some who feel it is not appropriate to enhance penalties based on that. When people don’t think there’s a problem, they are not willing to create solutions.”
The apparent reluctance of the Minnesota Senate conference committee to consider the hate crime component of the public safety bill is in contrast to Congress’s broad bipartisan endorsement of a new law, dubbed the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act, passed in the Senate in late April. It is expected to be voted into law by the House, and become law, later in May. It would expedite the Justice Department’s review of hate crimes and would designate an official at the department to oversee the effort.
It would also specify that the Justice Department coordinate with local law enforcement groups and community-based organizations nationwide to facilitate and raise awareness about hate crime reporting, including establishing an online hate crime reporting system in multiple languages. The legislation is one of the few bills to pass the Senate side of Congress with support from both Republicans and Democrats.
At the March press conference, Nick Kor, of the Twin Cities policy and advocacy organization Coalition of Asian American Leaders (CAAL), noted that he was speaking barely a week after the March 16 shootings in Atlanta, in which a young white man killed eight people, six of whom were Asian American women. “Unfortunately, this act of hate does not stand alone. It is a pattern we have seen before in history,” he said. “Here in Minnesota, just as in other parts of the U.S., we have seen an increase of violence and attacks of Asian American communities.”
Recent data from the national advocacy group Stop AAPI Hate shows there were 6,603 incidents of anti-Asian violence reported nationwide in the last year (March 2020 to March 2021) with more than 60 percent of them involving women victims. “In Minnesota, we have seen physical and verbal abuse on the streets, in stores, and other public places,” Kor said. “Just on Friday, a group of Asian parents and students here experienced hatred when a driver drove up to them and told them to leave this country or they will be killed.”
There have been attempts at intimidation of Asian Americans, such as “in the case of a young couple in Woodbury who came home to a note left on their door, telling them to take the virus and go home,” he said. “And also in Austin, Minnesota, where the words ‘China virus’ were burned on their front lawn.”
When property damage is hate
Mrotz explained that the law (HF 1691/SF 2003) will close a loophole in existing law concerning property damage. Property damage crime, such as hate graffiti, is not presently considered to be a hate crime unless the property is owned by the intended victim. “Many of us have seen racist or anti-Semitic graffiti painted on public schools,” Mrotz said. “Under current law, due to these buildings not being owned by targeted groups, such incidents would not be recorded as part of a picture of hate in Minnesota, in spite of how they may impact the children and staff who walk by them every day.”
There is a law enforcement component to the pending bill, Mrotz said, having to do with training officers to recognize hate crime, learn how to report it, and develop skills in how to talk with victims. In discussions with the Peace Officer Safety and Training Board (the POST Board) when developing the bill, the coalition leaders discovered that “training in response to incidents of hate has not been updated in a long time,” and “they lack the capacity to update or develop this curriculum.”
The bill would allow community organizations to develop the curriculum, which could then be approved by the POST Board and the Department of Human Rights.
Collection of hate crime data
Currently, hate crimes can only be officially reported directly to law enforcement. “We know some communities do not feel safe engaging with law enforcement, and are therefore far less likely to report an incident, which means there are many stories going untold and unheard, that never become part of the bigger picture of what is happening in Minnesota,” Mrotz explained. The hate crimes bill, if passed, would allow community organizations to take reports of hate crimes and to supply them to the Department of Human Rights, and build a more accurate picture of what communities are experiencing in Minnesota, she said.
The new bill has the support of Commissioner Rebecca Lucero of the Department of Human Rights, Attorney General Keith Ellison, Gov. Tim Walz, and Lt. Gov. Peggy Flannagan for their support of our bill and of our communities, Mrotz said.
Jaylani Hussain, the executive director of CAIR Minnesota, one of 35 local chapters of the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) said that, for the past 12 years, hate crimes in Minnesota targeting the Muslim community have increased exponentially. “We have our mosques being bombed, our businesses being vandalized and we have seen the threat of violence deny us from even having a conversation about a hate crime.”
That happened, Hussain said, in connection with a hate crime in St. Cloud, after which the FBI, the St. Cloud Police, Department of Human Rights, and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) were to do a joint panel discussion, but were prevented from doing so due to threats. “That same day, businesses outside our office were vandalized. All of this is happening right here in Minnesota and all over this country.”
Ayesha Mustapha, of African Career Education and Resource (ACER) said she has heard of her organization members who have witnessed police minimizing or denying crimes reported to them by African immigrant community members, which discourages victims from reporting. “Under-reporting of these crimes creates a false narrative that everyone is safe in every community, when this is not the case.”
Zayna Abdi, civic engagement coordinator with Reviving Islamic Sisterhood of Empowerment (RISE) said that many Muslim women are targeted for hate crimes, “especially those who wear a hijab like me. Safety should not depend on one’s faith, color of skin, or any other identities.”
Bethany Bobo, digital organizer for the LGBTQ-plus group OutFront Minnesota, said they have an anti-violence program that works with victims of hate crime. She noted that “when reports are made to law enforcement, they are typically not documented as hate, or bias violence even when that is requested by survivors,” she said.
“I have seen hate crimes, including physical assaults with injuries listed as disorderly conduct, noise complaints, or trespassing,” Bobo said. “I worked with a transgender woman who waited for hours for the police to respond after a violent physical attack when she was walking home, only to be told ‘well if you see him again, call us back.’ With no report even written down.”
Rep. Samantha Vang (D-District 40B) said that before appearing at the meeting “I’ve struggled to piece together the words to encompass the pain, loss and hurt I feel as an Asian woman, and what the community is going through.” Vang said her parents were refugees due to the Vietnam War, and she grew up caring for her siblings while both parents worked, “and I also took care of my parents, helping them to navigate the western world,” she said. “So here I am again today, today, putting myself between our elders and the racist world we find ourselves in.”
About the escalating incidents of hate against Asian Americans, Vang said “we should have seen it coming.” Since the start of the pandemic, there has been a rise in violence against Asian Americans “including here in Minnesota.” Vang said she has heard and seen stories of Asian elders attacked and verbally harassed in public places.
“For those quick to say that the Atlanta shooting was not a racially motivated attack, well, nothing is more racist than to blame a group of people for your problem and further dehumanize them into sexual objects,” she said. “This is also parallel to being blamed for and associated with the coronavirus. Called the “Chinese virus” by our exalted leaders, this became a turning point in the anti-Asian hate epidemic. That goes to show that words matter, and that we must call this for what it is —- racist attacks on Asian Americans.”
The Communities Combatting Hate Coalition has a website at: stophatemn.org.
Martha Vickery is a long-time professional journalist and long-time amateur Korea watcher, co-founder of Korean Quarterly, and editor since its founding in 1997. She has raised three now-adult children, two of whom are adopted from Korea, with the help of the Korean American community in the St. Paul-Minneapolis area.