Hate crime laws need rewriting

Daily Editorial Board

On Nov. 23, five people were shot outside the 4th Precinct police station in North Minneapolis, the site of protests over Jamar Clark’s death earlier that month. Since then, four men allegedly involved in the shooting have been charged with felonies. 
 
These felony charges don’t account for racist intentions behind the shooting, but charging the shooters with hate crimes could result in a lighter sentence.
 
This logic mirrors that of another case earlier this year, when a patron allegedly assaulted a woman for speaking Swahili at an Applebee’s restaurant in Coon Rapids. The alleged assailant was not charged with a hate crime because that could have diminished her punishment. 
 
The fact that Minnesota law does not allow felony charges to account for racial or otherwise discriminatory motivations is a problem. Although guilty parties face substantial prison sentences, we believe the charges should adequately reflect racist motivations behind a crime. 
 
Rhetoric matters, especially in courtrooms. That the sentencing does not reflect racial bias behind these recent charges effectively sweeps racism under the rug.
 
Sen. Ron Latz, DFL-St. Louis Park, is working on a bill to increase maximum sentences by 25 percent when someone commits a felony assault as a result of bias. We urge the Legislature to support this bill, especially in light of the increased racial tensions in Minneapolis and the rest of the state. The first step toward ending racially motivated felonies is to actively and officially acknowledge they exist and will not be tolerated.