Reports of hate crimes up

This is the first time in three years there have been reported hate crimes on campus.

Matthew Gruchow

For sociology graduate student Melissa Weiner, hate crimes became real in November when she received anti-Semitic literature at her University office.

“When something like this happens, it’s jarring,” Weiner said.

Weiner, who is the only practicing Jew in her department, said she feels hate crimes are underreported on campus.

Although Weiner and some student groups said they feel hate crimes go underreported, this year marks the first time in three years there have been reported hate crimes on campus. Four hate crimes were reported on campus in 2004, up from zero reports since 2001, according to University police statistics.

Steve Johnson, deputy police chief for the University Police Department, said he does not see this as the start of a trend.

“I don’t see, from the things that have been reported to us, as the beginnings of a trend,” Johnson said. “If other people are really concerned about hate crime and believe it’s on the rise, they should follow up with the Police Department and make sure we’re protecting our community.”

Johnson said hate crimes might be underreported on campus and urged students to report potential hate crimes and harassment.

Hate crimes

Minneapolis and St. Paul police reported zero hate crimes for 2004 in the precincts encompassing the University.

Of the four reported hate crimes on campus this semester, two were incidents of anti-Semitism. The other two incidents were in March and May and involved written and spoken racial slurs.

Few actions meet the legal definition of hate crimes, but bigotry and harassment continue to have a presence on campus, said some student groups.

Racially motivated hate crimes are the most common in Minneapolis, followed by crimes motivated by sexual orientation, said Lt. Gregory Reinhardt, of the Minneapolis Police Department.

Amy Olson, director of Hillel, the Jewish student center, said there can be a fine line between what is considered a hate crime and what is considered free speech.

“I would say that the incidents that have happened on campus have been distressing – whether they’re technically hate crimes is sort of beside the point, because they have hurt people and made people feel uncomfortable,” Olson said.

She said Minnesota should enact a hate-crime law addressing physical and emotional damage done by crimes such as hate-motivated assaults.

“I think there’s an extra level of damage done to a person,” Olson said.

Though two of the four hate crimes reported on campus this year were anti-Semitic, Olson said she does not believe Jewish students are fearful.

“I would say by and large Jewish students aren’t afraid to show their Jewish identity on campus, but they are aware that there is anti-Semitism on campus,” she said.

Reporting hate crimes

Weiner said there is no training for teachers or information about hate crimes available on campus, such as telling staff members where to direct students who want to complain about possible hate crimes.

“I really don’t think students know how to deal with these incidents when they happen,” she said. “I teach at the University, and I’ve had many students come to me with incidents that would for sure be hate crimes.”

Julie Sweitzer, director of the University’s Office of Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action, which deals with harassment and discrimination cases on campus, said it is uncommon to have to refer a case to the police as a potential hate crime.

There has not been an increase in the number of cases handed over to the police, she said.

B David Galt, director of the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender Programs Office, said his office has seen a tenfold increase in complaints since spring 2003.

“What we’re seeing is more bias incidents rather than hate crimes,” he said.

The incidents vary from uncomfortable conversations in classrooms to threats of violence, Galt said.

He said the increase in complaints mirrors national trends showing an increase in hate crimes against the GLBT community.

Society is polarized on GLBT issues, and this has created tension on and off campus, he said.

“I’ve experienced a definite reluctance of GLBT (students) to be as out as they have in previous years,” Galt said. “There is definitely a heightened awareness and concern for safety on campus right now.”

Some GLBT students might not report hate crimes to police because it would publicize their sexualities, he said.

“A number of people we see do not want to go to the police,” Galt said. “They don’t want to put themselves out there.”

Hate crimes citywide can go unreported to police for numerous reasons, including more reports going to community groups and workplace organizations, Galt said.

Reinhardt said, “We know it’s vastly underreported. As police, we’re more than willing to attach (hate crimes) to our reports, but you can’t force that out of someone.”

Beyond the University

The Southern Poverty Law Center, in Alabama, estimates 500,000 college students are victims of hate crimes each year, said Brandon Wilson, a college outreach associate at the center.

A state statute requires police to report whether hate was a factor in crimes, he said.

Because federal law does not require local law enforcement to report their hate-crime statistics to the FBI, the number of victims could be much higher, Wilson said.

“Hate activity happens with an amazing amount of regularity on college campuses,” he said.

Colleges must do more to educate students on what can be considered a hate crime, he said.

“If there’s not a quick, strong and consistent message sent each time hate strikes, you’ll see an escalation of the validity of the activity that is striking the campus,” Wilson said.