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City of Fargo to discuss hate crime ordinance proposal

The ordinance would address crimes where an individual is targeted with violence or threats of violence because of their race, color, ethnicity, national origin, religion, disability, gender, sexual orientation or gender identity.

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The Fargo City Commission chambers. Forum file photo
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FARGO — A Fargo City Commissioner is seeking approval of a city ordinance that would allow individuals to be charged with hate or bias crimes in the city.

Arlette Preston, who said she is introducing the proposal in light of threats to people of color following Fargo's 2020 racial justice demonstrations, is bringing the ordinance before the city's Human Relations Commission Thursday, March 18. She plans to bring the proposal before the City Commission at its Monday meeting.

The ordinance would address crimes where an individual is targeted with violence or threats of violence because of their race, color, ethnicity, national origin, religion, disability, gender, sexual orientation or gender identity.

Fargo Police Chief David Zibolski said he could name eight recent hate or bias crimes in the city in 2019, Preston said. There were another 10 such crimes reported through the first nine months of 2020, she reports.

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candidate forum Preston 5-19-2020
Arlette Preston

Bias crimes would be a secondary charge attached to other criminal offenses such as simple assault, harassment, criminal mischief or discharge of a weapon. Violations would carry a fine of up to $1,500, 30 days in jail or both, which is the highest penalty a city ordinance can impose under North Dakota law.

Preston said she would want the Human Relations Commission to serve as a watchdog to monitor reports and ensure the city enforces the ordinance.

"I think a lot of these reports fall between the cracks," she said. "I think there's some frustration with that."

The ordinance would also call for restitution to victims to help pay for medical bills, counseling, therapy, or property damage.

Preston said she hopes the proposal sends a message to the community that the city won't tolerate bias-motivated violence or threats.

The Fargo Police Department already trains staff and sworn officers on bias crimes and recently held refresher training on how to recognize bias crimes and report them accurately, according to police Lt. George Vinson. Additionally, the department is holding a full day of implicit bias training for all staff next month.

Preston's proposal comes after the North Dakota Legislature earlier this month rejected a resolution to study and collect data on bias crimes in the state. The proposal failed in the House by a 60-32 vote after the Judiciary Committee gave it a do-pass recommendation on a 7-6-1 vote.

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A bill similar to Preston's ordinance proposal failed in February in the House by a 75-17 vote.

Rep. Ruth Buffalo, D-Fargo, said in a news release that addressing bias crimes issues is crucial for addressing prejudice in North Dakota.

"We can no longer deny or ignore that these issues exist in our state," she said.

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State Rep. Ruth Buffalo, D-Fargo

The state's Peace Officer Standard Training board has expressed interest in offering bias crime training at its Law Enforcement Training Academy and plans to vote on the issue at its May meeting, Buffalo said.

Buffalo said while opponents of bias crime laws argue they're "propaganda" that promotes "victim culture," strengthening the state's bias crime laws would create "a strong North Dakota for everyone."

"Until our most vulnerable are safe and protected, the work will continue," she said.

An almost 50-year veteran of the newspaper business, Amundson has worked for The Forum and Forum News Service for 15 years. He started as a sport reporter in Minnesota. He is currently the city and night reporter for The Forum. bamundson@forumcomm.com 701-451-5665
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