City combats hate crimes with newly formed group

Thomas Douty

A network, newly formed by city officials and civic leaders, will go into Minneapolis communities to train and educate neighborhood groups in helping victims of hate crimes.
Minneapolis city officials announced Monday morning the formation of a new group called the Minneapolis Hate Crimes Response and Prevention Network.
The network will encourage neighborhood organizations to wipe out hate and bias crimes by discussing the incidents with the victims and notifying the community at large of a potential problem.
“We’re dealing with a chronic problem that needs to be dealt with in an ongoing manner,” said Mort Ryweck, a network spokesman and a League of Minnesota Human Rights Commission coordinator.
Hate or bias crimes under Minnesota laws are those committed against a person because of race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, age, disability or national origin.
According to Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension statistics, racially motivated crimes make up the majority of hate crimes in Minnesota, followed by sexual orientation and then religious preference.
Ryweck said 55 percent of hate crimes in Minnesota are committed by males, 21 years old and younger.
The network, composed of 33 area volunteer and nonprofit groups, is growing daily, Ryweck said.
“It is important for communities to show that most people are of good will,” he said.
The organization will act as a support group for victims, sending two representatives to meet with them on a one-on-one basis.
According to the bureau’s report, 264 hate crimes were reported to Minnesota police departments in 1998. The 1999 report has not yet been released.
However, these statistics might be low. Ryweck has been approached by many victims of hate crimes who did not report the incidents to police.
Hennepin County Attorney Amy Klobuchar said her office will work with the commission to help them determine a suitable punishment for perpetrators of hate crimes.
Ryweck said the first project of the commission actually came from the attack on the Korean First Baptist Church in northeast Minneapolis.
Last November, a neighborhood resident spray painted racial phrases and a swastika on two church walls and a van.
The accused suspect is currently awaiting trial in Hennepin County District Court. Klobuchar said she hopes to meet with the commission to help settle on a punishment and possible retribution.
The main emphasis is on community development, said Ryweck. He said many of these groups need to be reminded they have a responsibility to respond to this issue.

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