Making residents more informed, more educated, more aware and more alert.
Those are key objectives of the St. Cloud Human Rights Commission as it coordinates three public forums about hate crimes by spring 2020.
The first of those — which focused on acknowledging bias and offering community support — was held Wednesday at St. Cloud State University. The next, planned for this winter, is about law enforcement dealing with hate crimes. A third session focusing on community dialogue is envisioned for spring.
As longtime commission member Judy Foster pointed out Thursday, forums that inform, educate and raise awareness of hate crimes will ultimately help the commission's main goal: show residents how they can be more supportive of each other and make the St. Cloud area a more welcoming community.
As this Editorial Board has noted for more than a decade, the best way to reduce cultural tensions in this (or any) community is to get to know your neighbors instead of defining those individuals on assumptions and stereotypes. That's a two-way street.
And that's exactly why all metro residents should watch for more details about the two remaining forums and plan to attend them.
Walking the talk
Foster said an exact time and date for the forum focused on law enforcement is in the works, as are its panelists. The idea, though, is for it to be similar to Wednesday's forum, which featured National Council of Jewish Women Minnesota Executive Director Beth Gendler, the Center for American-Islamic Relations Minnesota Executive Director Jaylani Hussein and OutFront Minnesota organizer Justin Lewandowski.
The panelists talked at length about acknowledging bias and offering community support when dealing with hate in any form. In fact, Foster said Wednesday's forum at St. Cloud State University included a real-time example of that very principle.
An unidentified person aimed to create division between CAIR and OutFront Minnesota by selectively distributing flyers highlighting how a handful of nations led by extremist Muslim leaders treat same-sex sexual activity as a crime, even punishable by death.
Foster — who, along with Times journalists covering the event did not get a flyer — said the panelists clearly stated that they stand united in fighting all forms of hate and in supporting each other's organizations.
Looking ahead, the goal of the second forum is to have a panel of law enforcement leaders from several jurisdictions explain the legal definition of hate crimes, how they are tracked, the level of offenses involved and the potential penalties.
It's important to note that focusing on the topic is not tied to a documented increase (or decrease) locally of hate crimes. Rather, becoming more informed about hate crimes by experts in law enforcement can help residents be better educated about what behaviors are (and are not) hate crimes.
- Times Editorial Board