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

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

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.

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

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Comments (8)

  1. Submitted by John Appelen on 11/24/2015 - 10:07 pm.

    Just Curious

    When protesters were throwing rocks at police, was that a “hate crime”? I mean the protesters who did it were definitely targeting a specific demographic group that they were angry at.

  2. Submitted by Jeff Christenson on 11/25/2015 - 10:33 am.

    Just guessing, but I don’t think police officers are members of a “protected class,” such that race/gender are protected classes (under the Civil Rights Act of 1964). I know there have been municipal efforts to create laws establishing that violence against police officers can constitute a hate crime, but not sure how successful those have been.

    • Submitted by John Appelen on 11/25/2015 - 11:35 am.

      Good Point

      However LGBT folks don’t constitute a protected class in many places, yet folks work to apply the term “hate crime” in those assaults.

      • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 11/30/2015 - 04:01 pm.

        However?

        I’m not sure what, if anything, this has to do with hate crimes laws in Minnesota.

        Folks work for a lot of things.

    • Submitted by Kurt Nelson on 11/30/2015 - 07:43 pm.

      The police

      are not a protected class. I almost blew my martini out of my nose with that. They are probably the most protected class. Qualified immunity gives the police a level of protection a citizen can only read about in the papers. It’s no wonder they are very rarely charged with crimes, let alone convicted and sentenced. Not a protected class – that’s funny.

      • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 12/01/2015 - 05:16 pm.

        Protected Class

        “Protected class” is a term of art in civil rights laws. Discrimination is illegal only if it is practiced against members of certain listed “protected classes.”

        Be careful with those martinis. You don’t want to get an olive stuck in your nose.

        • Submitted by Kurt Nelson on 12/02/2015 - 08:25 am.

          Are

          you arguing that the police don’t receive protected class status. Whether codified or not, the police are a protected class. There are increased penalties for violence towards the police, in fact, that protection even applies to their dogs. A man was recently sentenced to 35 years for killing a K-9 dog. Now that may have been one snazzy dog, obedient and smart, but it’s still a dog- not a human. 35 years. If that fellow had shot your dog or mine, there might not even be a criminal complaint filed, let alone a felony resulting in a 35 year sentence.
          Just one example.

  3. Submitted by John Ellenbecker on 12/01/2015 - 10:39 am.

    Police and bias crimes

    While police are not a “protected class” under Minnesota statute, the same assault statute that enhances the penalty for an assualt motivated by bias also enhances the penalty for an assault on a police officer. They are both an Assault in the Fourth Degree in violation of Minn. Stat. Sec. 609.2231.

    For those who care to know, the bias language is as follows: Subd. 4.Assaults motivated by bias. (a) Whoever assaults another because of the victim’s or another’s actual or perceived race, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, disability as defined in section 363A.03, age, or national origin may be sentenced to imprisonment for not more than one year or to payment of a fine of not more than $3,000, or both.

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