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Protest shooters won’t be charged with a hate crime. Here’s why that would have been mostly symbolic anyway

After the shooting of five protesters, protesters called the incident a “hate crime.” Here’s what the data tell us about these types of crimes in Minnesota. 

Black Lives Matters members and supporters taking part in the protest outside the Fourth Precinct police station on Thursday night.
MinnPost photo by Brent Moore

Note: A version of this story was originally published November 24. It has been updated to reflect new information.

Last week, after eight days of protests in response to the police shooting of 24-year-old Jamar Clark, several suspects opened fire on demonstrators a block away from the Fourth Precinct police station.

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The Hennepin County Attorney’s Office announced charges against four men at a press conference this morning. Allen L. Scarsella III, 23, faces the most severe charges: five counts of second-degree assault with a dangerous weapon one count of second-degree riot while armed. The other three were charged with the same riot count, but not the assault.

Noticeably absent from the charges was a “hate crime” count, legally known as a “bias crime,” which some protesters have demanded in the aftermath of the shooting.

The significance of this charge would have been mostly symbolic. Minnesota law dictates that a bias influence can increase punishments in low-level assaults. The racial bias could be taken into consideration as an aggravating factor by a jury or judge, which could mean a longer prison sentence. But in the case of this shooting, a bias crime count would have actually been a lower-level charge than the felonies filed today.

In Minnesota, reports of bias crimes have been on the decline for the past 20 years, according to federal statistics. In 1995, bias played a role in a reported 307 cases; last year there were 103 reports — a 66 percent decline. Crimes specifically involving a racial bias — as opposed to religious, gender or sexual orientation — are even more rare, dropping from a reported 233 to 56 over the past two decades statewide.

Minnesota bias crimes by year
About the data: Minnesota law requires police officers to file a report if a case appears to be motivated by bias. Not all cases result in bias crime charges.
Source: FBI Uniform Crime Report

Bias crimes in Minneapolis are dropping as well. Last year, the feds reported 33 of these, down from 59 in 2008 and 75 in 1997. Eleven of those reported last year involved racial bias. 

Minneapolis bias crimes by year
Note: no data available for 2006.
Source: FBI Uniform Crime Report