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What is a hate crime? UND professor explains

Investigation into the fire and the Nazi-themed vandalism at the Juba Coffee House continues, and some people are speculating the two incidents were hate crimes against the Somali restaurant in Grand Forks.

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Investigation into the fire and the Nazi-themed vandalism at the Juba Coffee House continues, and some people are speculating the two incidents were hate crimes against the Somali restaurant in Grand Forks.

But what exactly is a hate crime?

"A hate crime, in the most generic, or specific, sense is that it is an act against a person who is a member of a specified group or class,” said Michael Meyer, a UND professor in the Department of Criminal Justice. 

Meyer says if a hate crime is proven, steeper penalties will apply, but it's important to note not all acts motivated by anger are hate crimes. Instead, the crime must specifically target a protected class, such as race, gender, religion, sexual orientation or disability.

"In the present climate, the issues that are raised specifically around Islam or being Muslim creates an environment or an atmosphere that will certainly draw, certain people, out,” Meyer said.

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Depending how the investigation into this fire goes, there could not only be charges of hate crime, but also terrorism, he added.

"(Terrorism is) intended to create fear in a group of people; it's intended to achieve some possible political motive,” Meyer said.

Often a challenge in proving terrorism in cases like these is in the definition, because terrorism can be classified as criminal or social acts of violence. Meyer says the key in defining terrorism is the motivation behind the act.

"But will we identify that motivation and understand not only could it be a hate crime but it has the equivalence of an act of terrorism,” Meyer said.

Related Topics: CRIME
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