Members of the Moorhead Fargo Islamic Center were confronted by hate speech spray-painted on their mosque on Sunday, April 25.
But that act of hate and intimidation was overwhelmed by the display of unity and acceptance that followed as hundreds turned out to wash away the hateful words and symbols.
Vandals painted “Death to Islam” and “don’t vote” on exterior walls of the mosque and a swastika in front of the door.
Unfortunately, there is a small minority of people whose small-minded prejudice festers into such vile actions. Their aim, borne of ignorance, insecurity and hate, is to frighten their targets and make them feel unwanted.
Fortunately, it backfired. The true complexion of the community was evident when hundreds showed up with scrub brushes and power washers to erase the hateful graffiti. It was a powerful expression of acceptance and support for the metro area’s Muslim population.
And that support came from a broad spectrum of Christian denominations and other groups, demonstrating that an increasingly diverse population can come together. Those who make Fargo-Moorhead their home proved once again that this is an accepting, inclusive community.
To make that point clear, metro mayors issued a joint statement denouncing the hate speech. In another show of community support, more than 700 donors gave more than $26,000 for a security fund for the attacked mosque.
Law enforcement in Moorhead clearly is taking this seriously. Police got a break when a loss-prevention specialist at a local business provided them with key information that enabled them to arrest a suspect.
Because this hate crime took place in Minnesota, not North Dakota, authorities have the ability to bring charges with enhanced penalties. That’s important in a case like this.
Hate crimes are deliberate acts aimed at an entire group, and their impacts are widespread. Victims of crimes that are motivated by bias are more likely to experience post-traumatic stress, safety concerns, depression, anxiety and anger than victims of other crimes.
Hate speech has a corrosive effect on society. Prejudice, stereotyping and discrimination can produce adverse effects on both the target and the perpetrator, psychological research shows.
Minnesota is among the vast majority of states that have enacted meaningful hate crime statutes. Unfortunately, North Dakota is one of only four that have not taken that important step.
In 2019, the most recent figures available, 19 hate crimes were reported in North Dakota. But experts tell us that number is too low because many hate crimes go unreported, because of fear of retaliation or a belief that nothing will be done.
North Dakota, in fact, led the nation in per-capita hate crimes for several years during the 2010s. Readers will recall that in 2017, a woman in Fargo accosted several Somali immigrants, yelling, “We’re going to kill every one of you (expletive) Muslims.”
So, as the Moorhead Fargo Islam Center incident reminds us, the problem is real. The North Dakota Legislature, however, recently rejected enactment of a stronger hate crime statute despite strong testimony in support of such a law.
North Dakota legislators should enact a stronger hate crime statute when they reconvene in 2023. Doing so would send yet another strong message that hate and intolerance will not be tolerated.