Summit stresses need for tolerance

by Jake Kapsner

Several community leadership groups from across the state gathered to discuss bias-motivated violence and harassment Tuesday at the Minnesota Summit on Hate Crimes.
The discussion focused on overcoming subtle and overt prejudice and discrimination in race, religion, gender and sexuality and featured some of Minnesota’s top officials.
U.S. Attorney David Lillehaug and Minnesota Attorney General Hubert H. “Skip” Humphrey III helped organize the event and were among leaders who spoke to the crowd of more than 800. Community leaders gathered at the Minneapolis Convention Center for the day-long series of talks, lead by local and national civil rights advocates.
The conference sought to heighten local awareness of hate crimes and the frequency in which bias-motivated crimes go under-reported.
“I hear a lot about Minnesota Nice. I want Minnesota to be a lot nicer,” Humphrey said. He stressed not only legal action, but also community intolerance of violence.
But high-profile legal commentary was only part of the event.
Carol Randolph, reporter and TV talk show host, facilitated Court TV and “town meeting” segments of the conference, which will air Saturday on cable television.
The televised discussions included reports and reactions from area students looking to reduce incidents of violence they see firsthand.
“I want to form a group at school to deal with hate and prejudice,” said Carina Small, a sixth grader at Kellogg Middle School.
Audience members also suggested organizing follow-up community discussions on the issue.
A repeated theme at the conference was that hate crimes frequently go unreported.
This problem of not reporting also exists at the national level, said Deputy U.S. Attorney General Eric H. Holder.
Legal measures should be strengthened because people have the right to live free of fear, he said.
Lillehaug said distrust of law enforcement officials is a major reason people don’t report crimes.
At the conference, the Gay and Lesbian Community Action Council cited incidents from its annual report on Hate Crime Statistics in Minnesota, which they released Monday at the state capitol.
The report documents verbal and physical harassment, assaults, property and other crimes aimed at gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered people.
Serious injuries resulting from bias-motivated incidents rose 64 percent in 1997, while homicide rates increased by 800 percent, according to the report.
University statistics also reflect what the summit sought to point out: A discrepancy exists between reported hate crimes and “bias-related incidents.”
University Police recorded eight accounts of bias-motivated crimes in 1997.
But Beth Zemsky, director of the University’s Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender Programs Office, said the office took 63 harassment reports in the same year.