Police Chief Mark Nelson’s explanation of why an incident in Grand Forks has been classified as a hate crime is helpful as we try to grasp all that happened early in the morning on April 26.

Young adults allegedly shouted “white power” from their rooftop, alarming neighbors and casting a pall of racism that was addressed at a City Council meeting.

No charges were filed, so we were surprised when it later was declared a hate crime.

This isn’t any sort of approval of the act – far from it. It’s an acknowledgement of questioning how a hate “crime” is determined if no charges are filed. Legally speaking, it’s a reasonable question.

Explained Nelson: “No crime has been charged out, but it is an integral part of a report that, based upon the information that's there, whether or not what was meant or what was allegedly said at this point in time, constituted in the reporting party's mind that they felt threatened, or that it was a disparaging remark against their children based upon race. So therefore, having to look at this situation back and forth and based on the last guidance we have relevant to (Uniform Crime Reporting) and FBI audits, we ought to classify this as a hate crime."

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Heidi Castle, a mother of African American children, lives nearby and reported the incident.

It’s alarming, especially considering minority children live nearby. Those who yelled the chants really need to consider exactly who heard them.

After hearing Nelson’s explanation of a hate crime, the classification makes sense. Even if charges are never filed, shouting “white power” from rooftops is hurtful and a stain on the community. We agree with City Council member Katie Dachtler that it presents an opportunity to address how we treat others.

According to a police report, those involved have apologized to Castle. That’s a good place to start. Castle also said that since the incident, the renters have become “model citizens.” They also cleaned their yard, which has been the subject of complaints. This hints at remorse and, again, is a good start.

Next will be to slow accusations of racism and to move toward education rather than retribution.

The landlord is not racist. People who questioned whether it’s a hate crime are not racist. Questioning whether a designation of “hate crime” paints an unfair portrait of the city is not racist.

The focus should be on those who shouted that intimidating chant from a rooftop, and their actions going forward will better answer questions about their character. Are they racist, or lacking awareness and judgment?

Dachtler, during the council meeting, rightly reminded attendees that freedom of speech does not mean freedom from consequences.

“This is not an incident in which people are being held up as a sacrificial example for the city or for rentals or renters,” she said. “But rather, it shone a light on necessary areas of improvement.”

She’s right – people must, and will, learn from this. And as sad as the incident was, the lesson it is teaching is at least a small light amid the shadow it has cast.