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Hate crimes Proposed law changes would highlight hidden threats

It’s an unsettling fact that the government seems to track parking tickets better than it tracks hate crimes.

But a proposal to modify hate crime reporting in Minnesota to allow reports to other agencies than police and to include hate graffiti can help solve that case of misplaced priorities.

A recent case of neo-Nazi graffiti via stickers on lamp posts in the Mankato area may have fit under the new legal definition of a hate crime and given authorities power to investigate and prosecute.

Hate crimes at the state and federal level have from the beginning been described by a messy set of legal terms and nuances that fostered underreporting. For example, anti-Semitic graffiti and swastikas painted on a Minneapolis school were not considered a hate crime because the school was not owned by a “targeted” group. The graffiti would have had to have been painted on the home of a Jewish person to qualify.

Rep. Frank Hornstein, DFL-Minneapolis, has proposed the change in law, noting the anti-Semitic graffiti was five blocks from his house. While such graffiti doesn’t technically qualify as a hate crime, it has the intimidating effect on school kids and others who have to read it and walk by it.

It has a “community intimidation” effect. It should be a hate crime.

Hate crimes are under-reported by two thirds, according to a report in Police Chief Magazine. Annual FBI hate crime reports show some states reporting no hate crimes at all. Experts say that is related to the complicated and convoluted way hate crimes must be reported by local agencies and many just don’t bother.

The proposal also calls for allowing people to report to the Minnesota Department of Human Rights instead of police as some groups are wary of reporting to police.

Hornstein’s bill (HF 1691) would also expand the definition of those covered by the hate crime law to include “ethnicity,” “gender identity” and “gender expression.” Current protected categories the hate crime law covers include race, sex, sexual orientation, color, religion, national origin and disability.

While Hornstein’s bill may not get through the Legislature on its own for lack of hearings in the GOP Senate, some provisions are included in House omnibus bills. Hornstein told MinnPost he is optimistic the provisions will get heard in conference committees.

Victims of hate crimes need to be heard and communities need to be able to respond forcefully when random acts of hate surface on their streets.

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