Federal Officials Want Idaho Public to Help Fight Hate Crimes

Zoe Butler, an Idaho college sophomore, walked across the stage performing the spoken word to a packed house on Monday. The 20-year-old sang a poem she wrote with her mother about the ongoing fight against racial injustice after Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech in 1963. She pleaded with others to “keep dreaming.” “.

“There is something powerful and powerful about providing a place and a forum to be heard,” said Butler, who was born in Jamaica and moved to Caldwell from the Turks and Caicos Islands. “I’m just so lucky that I have a place to help others be heard.”

A crowd of more than 150 students, community members and law enforcement officials gathered at a private college in Caldwell for a Unite Against Hate event hosted by federal agencies and the Wassmuth Center for Human Rights.

“This is a day of action, a day to come together,” said Josh Hurvit, U.S. Attorney for the District of Idaho, in his opening remarks. “This is the day we renew our efforts to build the society that (Martin Luther King Jr.) saw possible even in the agony of the civil rights era.”

Scheduled for Martin Luther King Jr. Day, the event was part of a nationwide effort by the Department of Justice to host local forums, raise awareness and encourage reporting of hate crimes in the hope that it will lead to more prosecutions. Idaho was one of 14 states where the Department of Justice program began.

According to Uniform Crime Reporting, Idaho State Police counted 67 reported incidents of hate crimes across the state, up from 48 reported incidents in 2021. Most reported incidents were racially or ethnically related, consistent with national statistics.

Gurwit, in an opinion for the Idaho Statesman, said that hate crimes continue to go unreported and that one of his top priorities as U.S. Attorney is to encourage victims to come forward. Presentations by federal agents Monday outlined ways to recognize potential hate crimes when they occur; for example, a victim who belongs to a federally protected class may be an indicator.

“We want to overcome these barriers to reporting so that when hate crimes occur, we can prosecute them and get justice,” Hurvit told the Statesman on Monday, not just for victims, but for affected communities.

“As we move forward, I won’t be discouraged if we see an increase in reported hate crimes in Idaho in the coming years,” Harwit wrote last month. “I will take comfort in the fact that more reports will reflect people feeling connected to law enforcement, people caring for each other, and Idaho communities strengthening their resolve.”

Hate crimes against LGBTQ people cannot be blamed in Idaho

Counterterrorism experts and U.S. officials are keeping a close eye on Idaho as the state continues to attract a number of far-right ideologies, as the Statesman previously reported. Last year, authorities arrested 31 people linked to the Patriot Front, a white nationalist group who hid in a U-Haul and were allegedly planning a violent riot at a Pride event in Coeur d’Alene.

“We will not go back to the days of the Aryan nations,” Mayor of Coeur d’Alene Jim Hammond said after the arrests. “We got through it.”

According to the FBI, nationwide, the second-highest number of reported hate crimes were committed against individuals based on sexual orientation. Idaho’s criminal hate speech known as malicious harassment law excludes protections for people based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

“The mission of my office, as part of the Department of Justice, is to uphold the rule of law and to seek and achieve justice for all Americans in Idaho,” Hurwit told Stateman.

While local agencies in Idaho cannot investigate hate crimes against the LGBTQ community, federal agencies can. Last week, Hurwit’s office filed a federal hate crime charge against a Boise man who allegedly ran his car over two women, yelled homophobic slurs at them, and was linked to other anti-LGBTQ crimes. If found guilty, he could face up to 10 years in prison.

Ruth Kuz, Deputy Attorney for the Canyon County Special Victims Unit, gave the example of a murder case in 2016. According to a previous Statesman report, the group lured a gay man, robbed him, stripped him naked and left him for dead. Ultimately, Canyon County was prosecuted for the murder; Kuz said the county has been working with federal partners to file federal hate crime charges.

Christina Bruce-Bennion, executive director of the Wassmuth Human Rights Center, told the Statesman that LGBT communities, especially transgender people, have been targeted in the past year. Idaho has also seen more anti-Semitic incidents and abuse of women’s rights, she said, pointing to state laws that ban and criminalize abortion.

Boise faced a string of anti-Semitic incidents that began in November 2021 and continued for the next several months. These cases included several cases of swastikas in public places – in a building in the city center, along the Green Zone and on a bicycle path.

Federal officials on Monday urged members of the public to continue reporting incidents of targeted threats, whether or not they believe it will eventually be classified as a hate crime. The public should report potential hate crimes to emergency services, local law enforcement and the FBI, said Kate Horvitz, executive assistant U.S. attorney.

Knowledge is power, Bruce-Bennion said, and more information provides the public with more tools to fight hate crime. Monday’s event was also critical in helping those who may feel isolated or persecuted see they are not alone, she said.

“I think it’s important to sit in a room with people who have the same issues when sometimes it seems unbearable,” Bruce-Bannion told the Statesman. “Who are the people who want to participate in creating a different narrative… defending dignity and diversity?”

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