While the Communities Combatting Hate Coalition didn’t have success in the state legislature getting a hate crimes law passed, the Hennepin County Commissioners stepped into the void.
Last week, the commission voted unanimously to $1 million of federal money for “eligible costs, operations, staffing and services to support analysis of hate and bias-motivated incidents in Hennepin County,” the resolution read. The funding will include a hotline to report hate crimes.
“This sets a precedent,” said Jonathan Gershberg, the communications director for Jewish Community Action, which has been lobbying for strengthening hate crimes legislation at the state level. “Hennepin County is saying that they will create the systems that combat hate and all the loopholes in our reporting system that allow hate to go on unreported and unaddressed.”
The passing of the bill came a couple of weeks after two antisemitic episodes in the Twin Cities — a threat of violence at Friday night services at Beth El Synagogue, and the knocking over of nearly three dozen headstones at a Jewish cemetery in St. Paul.
The Communities Combating Hate Coalition is made up of 15 different organizations representing the Jewish, Asian-American, Latinx and LGBTQ communities, including Jewish Community Action, Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakotas, NCJW Minnesota, and ADL Midwest. Last year’s effort was led by JCA, the Minnesota chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, and Outfront, an LGBTQ advocacy organization, with the JCRC helping with legislative advocacy.
Brandon Schorsch, JCA’s outreach and engagement director working on the organization’s campaign on combating antisemitism and white nationalism, said that the money is coming from both the American Rescue Plan Act and the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act.
“One of those things that kind of fell into everyone’s lap and everyone found each other over the past few months,” Schorsch said of the coalition moving to the county-level. “It became a great opportunity to make these changes in the largest county in Minnesota, which can do quite a bit of harm reduction.”
According to the background materials from the county, the ARPA funding can be used for this reason. ”Under the available Treasury guidance, these funds may be used to reduce and respond to increased violence due to the pandemic, including evidence-based community violence intervention programs exacerbated by the pandemic,” the materials read.
In the legislature, the DFL-controlled House of Representatives passed the hate crimes legislation, while it never received a vote in the Republican-led Senate. Schorsch, speaking in July when the 2021 legislative session ended, telegraphed the possibility of moving to the county or municipal levels of government to get something passed, saying that they were “looking at ways to take the advocacy work they’re doing at the state level to county and municipal governments.”
“Coming out of legislative session, we really started re-evaluating and looking at cities and counties to make policymakers aware of how they can expand the toolbox,” he said.