The Minnesota Department of Human Rights abruptly canceled a community forum on hate crimes scheduled for Wednesday night in St. Cloud “due to safety concerns.”
Authorities said no threats were made, but police voiced concerns to organizers about the number of people expected to attend — including several groups of protesters and counter protesters.
State Human Rights Commissioner Rebecca Lucero said in an interview that she trusted law enforcement’s assessment of the situation, but expressed disappointment in the outcome. She noted that there’s been attempts to silence the discussion around hate crimes, “which is really unfortunate because people in St. Cloud want to have that conversation.”
“Hate is not a value in St. Cloud or in any part of our state. Our community deserves better,” she said in a statement, about an hour before the event’s planned 6 p.m. start time. “The goal of the forum was to discuss the community we want to create. One that is full of dignity and joy.”
The state agency had co-sponsored the event, held at St. Cloud Public Library, with the St. Cloud Human Rights Commission. Police Chief Blair Anderson and an FBI representative were set to attend the panel discussion alongside individuals who have personally experienced discrimination and hate crimes, such as Executive Director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) Jaylani Hussein and Policy and Community Organizer for OutFront Minnesota Justin Lewandowski.
Freedom Speaks Coalition, a self-described Constitutional Conservative organization, held a rally outside the library Wednesday evening protesting CAIR’s involvement. The coalition opposes abortion, gender identity training and the “infiltration of Radical Islam in all phases of education and the American government,” according to its website.
Several hundred people attending a separate pride and peace walk were expected to migrate to Wednesday’s hate crime panel.
“We don’t want to set a precedent that just because of backlash ... we don’t get to talk to each other,” said Natalie Ringsmuth, director of Unite Cloud, a nonprofit in St. Cloud aiming to reduce racial tension. “We look forward to having those discussions; it’s really important.”
Organizers have pledged to work with law enforcement to reschedule the event, but a new date has not been set.