In Fergus Falls, a group of white men in an SUV shouted racial slurs at an African-American college administrator while she was setting up a Labor Day picnic with her family. In Pelican Rapids, a Facebook user posted a racist, anti-immigrant comment on a photo of local Somali students in hijabs beneath their graduation caps.
Those are just examples of hateful incidents that are increasingly occurring in Minnesota — and not just in highly populated, diverse metro areas. And that’s why Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison’s outreach across the state for solutions is welcome and needed.
Ellison is doing listening sessions and collecting ideas for how his office can be more helpful to victims of harassment and other types of race or religion-based hate crimes.
At the invitation of Fergus Falls Mayor Ben Schierer, Ellison went to the town of 13,000 last month to meet with an informal “inclusivity council” at a local college. The mayor told the group that dealing with hate is one of the most important issues the community faces.
That was one of several listening sessions Ellison is holding outstate to inform the work of a group tasked with improving law enforcement responses to crimes that appear to be motivated by racism, xenophobia or other forms of prejudice. He’s also meeting with state and federal law enforcement officials to examine possible changes to the laws about police responses to reports of hate crimes.
That’s necessary because those types of incidents have increased 22% from 2016 to 2017, according to the most recent state data. Research from the Southern Poverty Law Center reports that there were 1,020 active hate groups in the United States in 2018. Of that total, 28 operate in our five-state region, with 12 in Minnesota.
“What’s clear is these people [in hate groups] are organizing,” Ellison told a Star Tribune reporter. “They’re here in Minnesota and they are violent and they’re willing to stab and hurt people while hiding behind the First Amendment.”
Hate can rear its ugly head anywhere from big urban centers to small towns in farm country. Ellison’s outreach efforts wisely reflect the need for statewide involvement in combating racism throughout the state and supporting local officials like Mayor Schierer who are trying to combat it.