The regulation would address crimes in which a person is exposed to violence or threats of violence because of their race, color, ethnicity, national origin, religion, disability, gender, sexual orientation or gender identity.
Proposed by City Commissioner Arlette Preston, she said she wanted “to make it clear to the community that bias crimes will not be tolerated and will be prosecuted”.
“We want everyone in the community to feel safe and welcome,” she said.
However, Commissioners Tony Gehrig and Dave Piepkorn wondered if state law would allow the city to pass its own ordinance, as a similar proposed state law was rejected at this state legislature session.
“Wouldn’t that be a contradiction to national law?” Asked Gehrig.
Assistant Attorney Nancy Morris said she would seek comment from Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem. She said Minnesota and South Dakota have state bias crime laws, even though North Dakota legislation defeated a bill that resembled Preston’s proposal at that session.
If the Stenehjem town law is deemed legal, Morris would draft a town ordinance for such a law.
Preston, Mayor Tim Mahoney and Commissioner John Strand supported further consideration of the measure and would likely be the votes for the bill.
Gehrig and Piepkorn voted against investigating the subject further.
Fargo Police Chief David Zibolski could name eight hate or bias crimes in the city in 2019, Preston said. Another 10 such crimes were reported in the first nine months of 2020.
Bias crimes would be a secondary charge linked to other offenses such as simple assault, harassment, criminal offense, or handing over a weapon. Violations would result in a fine of up to $ 1,500, 30 days in jail, or both. This is the highest penalty a city ordinance can impose under North Dakota law.
The ordinance would also require reimbursement to victims to cover medical bills, counseling, therapy, or property damage.
While the city waits for Stenehjem’s opinion, the North Dakota laws, passed during the civil rights era in the 1970s, are viewed by some as safeguards against hate crimes.
North Dakota had this legislation written into the Century Code in 1973, believes OneFargo racial justice organizer Wess Philome. Cass County prosecutor Birch Burdick said in a statement Monday that the law, as written, was part of a revision of the penal code and may have been law before the 1970s.
Century Code 12.01-14-04 states: “A person is guilty of a Class B misdemeanor if, regardless of whether he is acting under the color of the law or not, he or she is intentionally through violence or threat of violence or economic coercion injures, intimidates or interferes with another because of his gender, race, skin color, religion or national origin and because he exercises or tries to do this his right to unrestricted and equal enjoyment of a publicly accessible facility. “
“The things that I think will upset us all … they don’t fit the situation under the law,” Burdick said of the state laws already in place. Burdick explained his point by saying that actual attacks, for example in court, are easier to prove than the intent behind an attack.
“There are 14 factors a judge needs to think about when sentencing,” said Burdick. “The fact that there is no specific law on hate crimes does not mean that these factors are not considered by a judge, which can lead to a more severe sentence.”
Philome, who was helping behind the scenes with the citywide hate crime ordinance, hoped the 1973 law wouldn’t interfere with the citywide ordinance.
Mahoney and Philome resurrected their relationship after an hour-long meeting on Monday during which they dedicated themselves to working together to not only stop hate crimes in the area but also to include those who are marginalized so that everyone can feel welcome in Fargo, said Mahoney.
Philome also reached out to the city commission, where he said North Dakota ranked first or second highest for the number of hate crimes per 100,000 people according to FBI statistics from 2012 to 2015.
He called on the city’s lawyer to look into the drafting of the ordinance to “show that we will not tolerate acts of hatred within our city limits.”
Strand, who advocated more research into the regulation, said, “We’re going to find out that North Dakota is one of the worst states in the country to protect people at risk. We’re going to find out that North Dakota is one of them.” We will find that North Dakota’s mindset is, “We treat all people well.”
However, he said that, as Philome pointed out, the facts say otherwise.
Even though the 1973 law turned out to be a bias crime law, Strand still doesn’t go far enough to protect gay and disabled people.
He and Preston also pointed out that the law never appeared to be applied.
In another interview earlier this week, Barry Nelson, of the North Dakota Human Rights Coalition, said he had spoken out loudly that the state had needed laws against hate crimes for years.
“We know that hate crime is increasing exponentially in our country. We know this is both a symptom and a problem, ”Nelson said, adding that whenever laws are proposed for anti-hate crime laws, bills are closed and classified as divisive in state law.
“So a natural conclusion is that bias crimes are not themselves troublesome. It’s talking about them. No wonder these are white men who make this observation. Biased crimes are taking place in North Dakota. How can we start dealing with the problem if we don’t even want to talk about it? “Said Nelson.
Forum reporter CS Hagen contributed to this report
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