St. Paul mob attack raises questions

  • Article by: EDITORIAL BOARD , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 14, 2013 - 10:02 PM

If the evidence points to a hate crime, it must be prosecuted as such.

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A memorial was set up in the area of the Payne Phalen neighborhood where a brutal beating left a man with brain damage last week in St. Paul.

Photo: Renee Jones Schneider, Star Tribune

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We feel the community’s pain and outrage following yet another brutally violent attack on a Twin Cities street. Early last week, 26-year-old Raymond Widstrand was attacked and beaten near his apartment on St. Paul’s East Side when he tried to walk through a crowd of young people. On Wednesday, he remained in critical condition with severe head injuries.

Authorities are investigating what role race played in the attack: Widstrand is white, and those arrested for attacking him are black. Police reports say that two groups of black youths, some believed to be gang members, were fighting each other, then turned on Widstrand as he walked by.

Responding to questions from reporters about possible hate-crime prosecution, the Ramsey County attorney’s office has said police have yet to provide information that racial bias was a motivating factor in the attack.

If they do, we trust prosecutors will not hesitate to pursue hate-crime charges. Thugs must be held accountable when their crimes are grounded in hateful bias, whether it’s based on gender, sexual orientation, religion — or being white or black. No exceptions.

But we also need to recognize the inconsistencies in community reaction to these kinds of attacks. If a group of white teens goes on a racial rampage, not all white youths are painted with the kind of broad brush too often used to depict all black teens.

Five teenagers, ranging in age from 15-19, have been arrested in connection with the attack on Widstrand, and four have been charged. If convicted, they deserve the most severe sentences — the kind that would send a strong message to their peers about consequences.

In the longer term, there should be a greater police presence on St. Paul’s East Side and a focus on prevention, with a specific emphasis on gangs.

St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman met with Police Chief Tom Smith, Ramsey County Attorney John Choi and other city officials this week to discuss possible strategies.

A community meeting is planned for Thursday so that police and prosecutors can answer questions and address safety concerns. The question that needs the most pressing answer is what can be done to keep young teens of any color from even considering the kind of brutal attack that left an innocent man severely injured.

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An editorial of the Star Tribune (Minneapolis). Follow the editorial board on Twitter | FacebookPinterest | Google+

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