Last year’s effort to pass hate crimes legislation in Minnesota failed, but the bills are back this year with a much larger, more diverse community coalition behind it.
The Communities Combating Hate Coalition is made up of 14 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. The organizations will be holding a press conference at 11 a.m. Tuesday, March 23, shortly before the House Public Safety Committee holds the first hearing on the bill.
The bill had made it through two separate House of Representatives committee hearings during last year’s legislative session, but the session ended in mid-May before it could go to a floor vote in the DFL-led House. The State Senate, which is led by the Republicans, did not hold hearings in any committee last year.
What has changed is the make-up of the coalition; 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. This year, the coalition has grown to 14 members,
“It felt really important that we not just move this bill, but that we move it in a coalition,” said JCA Executive Director Carin Mrotz. Some of the groups now part of the coalition are Unidos, Gender Justice, the Asian American Organizing Project, and the Coalition of Asian American Leaders.
“We wanted to make this a broad coalition that captured the voices of faith communities and immigrants and LGBTQ people,” Mrotz said, “Because these are the people that we know are being most impacted by incidents of hate.”
Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been a significant increase in hate directed toward Asian American Pacific Islanders (AAPI). According to findings from the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University, hate crimes against Asian Americans spiked 149 percent between 2019 and 2020, even as hate crimes overall declined. The organization Stop AAPI Hate says that between March 19, 2020, and February 28, 2021, it has received 3,795 reported incidents of racism and discrimination targeting Asian Americans across the U.S. And that was before a gunman is charged with murder for killing eight people — six of them Asian women — in Atlanta last week.
“I think that we are in a moment. And what happened last week has brought what we’ve been talking about for the last year to the forefront,” said Nick Kor, the senior manager for movement building at CAAL, who will also be testifying at the hearing. “And because of that people are now paying attention to the bill. This press conference was planned before the events in Atlanta happened, but now people want to move some legislation around this now.”
Ethan Roberts, the government affairs director for the JCRC, stressed the importance of having such a diverse coalition.
“The reason why these hate crimes laws exist is that when somebody is targeted because of their race, or their religion, or sexual orientation, the impact is much broader than just the one person who may have been physically assaulted, or the synagogue that’s hit with graffiti,” he said. “That the impact is felt throughout the community. What I’m hearing about the level of fear is right now of people in the AAPI community, I think that really resonates with us as Jews.”
Said Kor: “We’ve always known that our liberation is all tied together. And we know that the way white supremacy works is that it is designed to pit marginalized communities against each other. It speaks to the fact that this is actually how we build power and how we make a change in our communities. We have to build solidarity between communities, and we have to build deep relationships between communities to be able to make that happen.”
Rep. Frank Hornstein, who is the lead author on the House bill, said that there has been a “perfect storm” of events in the past 10 months since the previous bill had a hearing.
“The seeds were sown for this very difficult period already and had been for years, but it just burst out into the open,” Hornstein said, citing hate crimes and harassment of the AAPI community after the pandemic started, extremist groups and militias marching on the Governor’s offices, the killing of George Floyd, the increases of extremism around the election and the Capitol insurrection in Washington, D.C. “I think it’s very instructive and chilling when the FBI says that domestic extremism is a threat to national security.”
NCJW Minnesota Executive Director Beth Gendler said that it’s a sensible piece of legislation. But that doesn’t mean it’ll pass.
“I don’t think there is an expectation about much policy action and that it really is about passing a budget and getting things on track,” she said. “I’m really hoping that next year, we can, we can redouble and actually move this bill. It shouldn’t be a partisan fight.”
Roberts said there’s a chance it can get past partisan gridlock. If the senate bill, co-authored by Sens. Sandy Pappas and Ron Latz, gets folded into the omnibus public safety bill, then it will go to a conference committee.
“Will the Senate be able to accept parts of it? Will we be comfortable as a coalition with the parts the Senate might be willing to take a leave aside the other parts?” Roberts said. “But the conversation will be joined in a way that did not happen last year because it was not folded into the public safety bill. But it’s worthwhile having these hearings and these conversations because it raises awareness.”
Mrotz is confident that the Senate will take up the bill.
“This is not a moment where I would want to be known in history as the person who wasn’t interested in strengthening the state’s ability to respond to hate crimes,” she said. “When I heard from all of these groups experiencing this huge rise in hate, I would not want to be the person who said ‘This is not important and we don’t need to hear it.’”