The first of three panel discussions on dismantling hate crimes will take place this week in St. Cloud.
The St. Cloud Regional Area Human Rights Commission is sponsoring the forum. It was originally scheduled for September, but postponed due to security concerns.
The commission split the event into a three-part series. The first, “Acknowledging Bias: Offering Support in Our Community,” is scheduled for 6 p.m. Wednesday in Miller Center Auditorium at St. Cloud State University.
“We just thought it's important for the community to be informed about what hate crimes are, how they're handled, and if someone feels targeted or victimized in any way by hate speech or what might be considered a hate crime, what they can do and where they can get help,” said Judy Foster, a member of the human rights commission.
Panelists include Beth Gendler, executive director of the National Council of Jewish Women Minnesota; Jaylani Hussein, executive director of the Minnesota chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations; and Justin Lewandowski, organizer of OutFront Minnesota.
Foster said the commission isn't aware of any hate crimes in St. Cloud, but has received reports of anti-Semitic and white nationalist comments, which she said are protected speech.
"However, our concerns are these kinds of messages tend to lead to hate crimes,” Foster said. “If none have occurred in St. Cloud, we're very fortunate, because they have occurred in the state of Minnesota."
The second forum planned for January will address legal responses to hate crimes. The third, in the spring, will provide an opportunity for community conversation.