What makes an assault, act of vandalism or even a bombing a hate crime? In Minnesota, it depends on who you ask.
When a 54-year-old Shorewood man allegedly punched and elbowed Door Dash driver Haarun Galbayte repeatedly one morning last month, he is said to have punctuated his blows with racial slurs and calls for Galbayte to return to his home country of Somalia.
Yet despite the victim’s account of being the recipient of one of the oldest racist tropes in the book, police in the southwest metro suburb say they are not investigating the attack as a hate crime. That is to the dismay of groups like the Minnesota chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, which last week brought attention to the case and demanded that it be counted as an example of a “bias-motivated” crime.
Far from an outlier, this episode is only the latest to underscore the uneven approach to investigating — and counting — hate crimes among law enforcement agencies in Minnesota.
Early one summer morning in 2017, I stood outside Bloomington’s Dar Al-Farooq Islamic Center hours after a homemade bomb ripped through its imam’s office. Months later, I traveled to the small central Illinois hamlet that produced the three militia members believed responsible for the attack, knocking on doors of homes festooned with Confederate flags. Those three men were charged with federal hate crimes last year. One of the men told law enforcement the bombing was meant to scare Muslims out of the country. But because it became a federal case, one of the state’s most notable acts of bigotry-fueled terror was never counted in the state’s annual tally of hate crimes that gets reported each year to the FBI.
A summit in St. Paul last week led by Attorney General Keith Ellison marked the clearest step yet toward changing the way hate crimes are investigated and counted in Minnesota. The meeting of elected officials, faith leaders and law enforcement seemed to coalesce around one theme: Minnesota authorities need better training to respond to and identify crimes motivated by bias.
“People are now coming to the realization from a community value perspective and ... by people impacted by racially motivated crimes that these are significant harms,” Ramsey County Attorney John Choi said.
But Choi added that there is still confusion among prosecutors about when to seek more severe sentences in assault cases believed to be motivated by bias, saying that it can be unclear how to prove a defendant’s mind-set. Drew Evans, superintendent of the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, also suggested officers could use better training on how to spot possible bias crimes at the start of investigations. Otherwise, he said, assault or threats cases will end up counted as just that, depriving the public of a chance to discover worrying trends in need of a remedy.