Early on a Saturday morning this month, just as members of the local Muslim community were gathering for the first prayer of the day, their Bloomington mosque was bombed.
No one was hurt, but the incident — still under investigation by the FBI, but which many suspect was driven by anti-Islamic hatred — adds to a string of incidents that have Minnesota's Muslim community on edge.
After two years of declines, hate crime incidents reported to authorities in Minnesota increased from 96 in 2015 to 122 in 2016, according to the state Bureau of Criminal Apprehension. There were 98 reported incidents in 2014 and 154 in 2013.
By law, Minnesota police departments are required to report crimes believed to be motivated by hatred toward race, religion, ethnicity, national origin, sex, age, disability or sexual orientation. The state first started collecting hate crime data, also known as bias crime, in 1989.
But because such crimes are notoriously underreported — the majority of hate crimes are missing from official data, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics — the statistics don’t tell the whole story in Minnesota.
For those hate crimes that are reported, however, the state’s data offer a picture of who perpetrates them, who's targeted, and where and how they happen.
Hate crimes in Minnesota
Most often-reported were anti-race incidents (58 victims), followed by anti-religion (30), anti-ethnicity (19) and anti-sexual orientation (15).
The most commonly targeted groups in 2016 were African Americans and Muslims. Compared to the year prior, 2016 saw an increase in recorded anti-religion hate incidents, from 15 in 2015 to 26 in 2016.
Nearly three in ten recorded hate incidents were simple assault, an attempt to cause serious harm to another person. More than a quarter of reported incidents were vandalism, and another quarter-plus were intimidation.
As for the medium used in hate-motivated crimes, the most common was verbal abuse, followed by bodily harm and graffiti.
Six in ten hate crime perpetrators were male and the gender of three in ten was unknown. 42 percent of offenders were white; 33 percent were of unknown race; 23 percent were black and 2 percent were Asian. The data did not include ethnicity, such as Hispanic, Latino or Arab.
Data is only as good as the reporting methods
Nationally, the number of hate crimes reported has also seen an uptick. In 2015, the most recent year available, the FBI reported 5,850 hate crime incidents nationally, a 7 percent increase over 2014.
The Southern Poverty Law Center, a civil rights organization that tracks hate groups, has also reported an uptick in active in hate groups. In Minnesota, the SPLC lists 10, including Neo-Nazi, Ku Klux Klan, anti-Muslim, black separatist and Christian identity groups. City Pages reported on efforts to shut down a neo-Nazi metal record label in the Twin Cities this week.
The increases in hate groups and hate crimes coincide with what some racial and religious groups say are heightened vitriol against them in national rhetoric and in their communities. But the numbers themselves should be taken with a grain of salt, said James Nolan, a professor of sociology at West Virginia University who studies hate crimes. Hate crime statistics are only as good as the reporting methods, which is to say, they can vary a lot.
There’s a few reasons the numbers tend to be a bit squishy: In the first place, whether or not hate crimes are reported depends on whether victims of crimes feel comfortable reporting them — which they often don’t. The accuracy of reports also depends on police attitudes and training surrounding hate crime.
In studying police departments, Nolan found that in some cases, officers didn’t think of crimes directed at people because of race, religion, sexual orientation or other groups as hate crimes. Other times, officers were hesitant to report crimes motivated by bias as hate crimes because of the attention doing so could draw.
“Sometimes they feel like what might be a destruction of property or a minor assault, if you call it a hate crime, it politicizes it. It makes it a big deal, they have to make sure they cross all the t’s and dot all the i’s,” he said.
Raising awareness about the need to report hate incidents is critical, said Steve Hunegs, the executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakotas. But he acknowledged that with the number of groups keeping track of hate incidents, where to report can be confusing.
In addition to police, organizations such as the Southern Poverty Law Center, the JCRC and the Coalition on American-Islamic Relations all track hate incidents (CAIR recently launched an app to streamline the process). In partnership with national nonprofit news website ProPublica and newsrooms throughout the country, Minnesota Public Radio is collecting information on hate incidents. The reporting form can be found here.
Sometimes, Hunegs said, the motive in hate incidents is clear: last year, a University of Minnesota student walked into the dorm room of a Jewish student who wore a yarmulke and wrote anti-Semitic messages on his whiteboard. But in another incident, a person reported their neighbor took down a Nazi flag they claimed not to have known was offensive immediately when confronted about it.
“To try to navigate around this issue of underreporting, we always encourage people to call us or contact us or email us if there’s anything questionable,” Hunegs said.