Minnesota’s leading Islamic civil rights group is asking for a hate crime investigation after a vandal struck a mosque in northeast Minneapolis early Sunday morning, shattering a glass door and shouting toward at least one startled onlooker inside.
The attack at the Masjid Salaam on Central Avenue came as the FBI released an annual report on bias-motivated crimes showing the first decline in Minnesota in five years. The report also showed a dwindling rate of police agencies reporting such crimes to the FBI.
The 126 hate crimes in Minnesota reported by the FBI marked the lowest total since 2016, and the first decrease since 2014. But just 10% of the 385 Minnesota police agencies that sent data to the FBI reported investigating bias-motivated offenses.
That means that nine out of every 10 Minnesota police departments — including those in cities like Duluth or some of the metro’s largest suburbs — reported zero bias crimes for all of last year.
“I’m glad reported numbers show a 14% drop in hate crimes in 2018, but the report really shows that far too few Minnesota law-enforcement agencies are reporting bias-motivated crime to know whether that drop reflects statewide reality,” said Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison.
Researchers say the drop in reported cases raises questions about how hate crimes should be tracked and investigated in the absence of mandated reporting and training on how to identify crimes motivated by bias.
“The problem is for those communities where there is very sparse reporting, we have victims that are not being served,” said Brian Levin, a hate crimes researcher at California State University-San Bernardino.
Sunday’s attack in Minneapolis was reported to Minneapolis police and the FBI. It also sparked a request for a hate crime investigation by the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR). No arrests had been made by Tuesday.
Minnesota sends its bias-crimes numbers to the FBI for its yearly report, but participation in the federal survey is voluntary. The FBI reported a small drop in participating law enforcement agencies this year, and its 7,120 overall hate crimes matched 2017’s total of 7,175.
Citing inconsistent reporting requirements, and uneven national participation, hate crimes researchers and even many law enforcement officials have acknowledged that the FBI’s annual tally likely vastly undercounts the true rate of such crimes nationally: the National Crime Victimization Survey has estimated yearly totals to be as high as 250,000 incidents.
Minnesota police agencies are not required to train officers on bias-motivated crimes, nor are they required to have written policies on such investigations — unlike for police pursuits or use of force.
Sen. Warren Limmer, R-Maple Grove, chairman of the Senate’s judiciary and public safety committee, is open to taking a longer look at law enforcement policies on bias crimes in the legislative session that begins in February.
“The Legislature should consider all actions, as well as dialogue with the communities involved and the POST [Police Officer Standards and Training] Board to address professional police training to better understand their current practices,” Limmer said in a statement Tuesday.
Still, the FBI’s national figures show that while the overall number of hate crimes was flat across the country, the number of personal attacks such as assaults or killings hit a 16-year high. Physical assaults represented 61% of all hate crimes in the country last year. Nationally, bias crimes against Latinos also climbed 13%.
In Minnesota, anti-gay crimes saw the biggest increase, climbing to 21 from 14 in 2017. Anti-black crimes represented the highest total of bias crimes at 42, down from 48. Crimes targeting Muslims remained flat at 10, matching 2017’s total, and anti-Jewish incidents fell from 16 to nine. Anti-white crimes fell from 21 in 2017 to eight last year, while crimes targeting Latinos increased from five to seven.
Intimidation (47) and vandalism (38) were the most common types of bias crimes in Minnesota, followed by simple assaults (31) and aggravated assaults (10). Bias crimes were most likely to happen at residences (34) or on the road (21).
Ellison has made combating hate crimes one of his office’s top priorities, while state Rep. Frank Hornstein, DFL-Minneapolis, is preparing legislation that would introduce new training requirements for police and allow community groups to report suspected hate crimes.
Hornstein cited a recent incident where a juvenile male drew a swastika on an Edina school shed with a piece of chalk. It was not recorded as a crime because it did not cause property damage and school officials were able to clean the chalk off. The juvenile told police that he did not perceive the swastika as a hate symbol and didn’t “hate anyone of Jewish religion.”
Steve Hunegs, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakotas, said the organization has recorded 31 anti-Semitic incidents in Minnesota this year, surpassing the 24 it documented in 2018.
“Collection of this information gives you an overview of what is happening in a community — and I talk about the community writ large,” Hunegs said. “If we are seeing an increase, what does that reflect about a given community, a given state overall? Without the fullest possible collection, it’s hard to analyze a situation. The more information we have, the better in general.”