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Minnesota officials call on communities to report, combat hate crimes

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Mourners gather for a vigil at the scene of a mass shooting.
Mourners gather for a vigil at the scene of a mass shooting, Sunday in Dayton, Ohio. A masked gunman in body armor opened fire early Sunday in the popular entertainment district in Dayton, killing several people, including his sister, and wounding dozens before he was quickly slain by police, officials said.
John Minchillo | AP Photo file

President Trump took aim at racism, bigotry and white supremacy on Monday in his most substantial remarks following two deadly mass shooting in Texas and Ohio.

Minnesota criminal justice officials agree it’s an appropriate target. Hate crimes are indeed increasing on the national level according to FBI statistics, and Minnesota is not exempt from the trends.

According to the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, there were 127 bias-motivated crimes reported in the state last year. That's fewer than the 147 hate crimes reported in 2017, but it's still more than the number of these crimes reported in 2016.

"We know that it's prevalent and we know that when it does happen,” said Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison. “Even if the numbers are not extremely high, those events inject a paralyzing fear into the people who are in the targeted group whether or not they themselves have been the victims of the attack."

Ellison said his office takes hate crimes very seriously, and his office has been putting together a working group on hate crimes. His office has met with legislators, law enforcement leaders and religious and community leaders to try to understand hate crimes in the state. But eventually he wants to turn those meetings into more formal partnerships and recommendations for law enforcement and legislators.

Still, Ellison, a Democrat, said officials need to focus on more than legislation and law enforcement. 

"What we really need is for people to understand that their quality of life is not lessened by the presence of people from other communities, it's actually enhanced," he said.

Samantha Salazar and Sarah Estrada join mourners gathered for a vigil.
Samantha Salazar, left, and Sarah Estrada join mourners gathered at Ponder Park in El Paso, Texas, for a community vigil on Sunday night, after a mass shooting at a Walmart the day before.
Vernon Bryant | The Dallas Morning News via AP file

Minnesota's U.S. Attorney Erica MacDonald, who was nominated by President Trump, said her office works hand in hand with the state attorney general's office and the Department of Human Rights as well as federal, state and local law enforcement to address hate crimes in Minnesota.

"Everybody is committed to prosecuting these offenses, to protecting against these offenses and protecting our community,” she said. “And what I hope that we continue to do is continue to reach the community and make sure that they understand where to go when they need help — that we'll always have their backs."

Minnesota Human Rights Commissioner Rebecca Lucero said her office has seen a significant rise in incidents involving discrimination.

"One area that I think is particularly important to note is that we've seen such a substantial increase in cases that are based on race," Lucero said.

Some 40 percent of the charges filed by the Department of Human Rights over the past year included claims of racial discrimination — up from 28 percent two years ago.

Lucero said preventing violent hate crimes needs to start with addressing systemic issues of discrimination.

"We are all the problem here. We are part of creating a system that allows for violence to occur in the first place,” she said.” And so I think the sooner we take ownership of that, that helps us break down this sense of helplessness that people feel around all of this.”

MacDonald, Ellison and Lucero all emphasized how important it is for Minnesotans to report to law enforcement if they see or suspect instances of hate crimes in their community.