ST. PAUL, MINN. (WCCO) -- There is a renewed call in Minnesota to boost the state's anti-hate crime laws after a spike in reported violence and discrimination against the Asian American and Pacific Islander community (AAPI), and in the wake of the Atlanta spa shootings that killed eight people, including six Asian women.
The coalition Communities Combatting Hate -- which includes groups like the Coalition of Asian American Leaders, Jewish Community Action and the Council on American-Islamic Relations (aka CAIR Minnesota) -- says it is urgent that the Minnesota legislature approve proposals that plug "loopholes" in state law related to hate crimes.
Nick Kor with the Coalition of Asian American Leaders spoke during a Tuesday news conference.
"Our communities are in pain, we are hurting, we're scared and we're looking for elected officials that take action right now," Kor said.
The bill would update training for officers, provide funding for victim support and allow victims to report incidents to non-law enforcement groups like community organizations, which would receive funds to assist with compiling the reports.
The group Stop AAPI Hate reported close to 3,800 hate incidents across the country from March 2020 to February 2021, and the group says that number is likely a fraction of the true total since the crimes are often under reported.
A study analyzing police department statistics across 16 major U.S. cities found anti-Asian hate crimes increased by 150% in 2020, while overall hate crimes fell by 7%, according to CBS News.
"They come to us because they want to be heard and to be supported. And unfortunately right now we don't have the support to play that role, and often what community members report to us is discounted," Kor said.
The proposal would also expand "crimes motivated by bias"—as described in state law—to include incidents related to gender identity and gender expression and it would define such crimes as incidents at least in part motivated by bias against certain groups, not just bias as the sole motive.
The bill clarifies "ethnicity" as a protected class instead of "national origin," and it targets criminal actions against people and property associated with certain groups.
Carin Mrotz, executive director of Jewish Community Action, gave this example of how she says the law falls short: If there is racist and anti-Semitic graffiti painted on a public school, such incident could not be prosecuted as a hate crime because the building is not owned by a targeted group, she said.
"These 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 in and out past them daily," Mrotz said. "Our bill closes this loophole."
In Atlanta, officials say it is still too early to rule out a hate crime in the mass shooting attack that claimed the lives of eight people, six of whom were Asian women. The suspect has been charged with eight counts of murder.
Gov. Tim Walz voiced his support for the bill during the news conference with community organizations on Tuesday.
"We need to recognize that this is real, that what happened in Atlanta will continue to happen unless we choose to make very proactive measures," he said.
A proposal in the House advanced out of a committee on Tuesday on a 10-8 vote with only DFL support. There is a similar bill in the Senate sponsored by Democrats, but its fate in the Republican-controlled chamber is uncertain.
Last year, a similar proposal stalled at the state capitol.
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