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Fargo Considers Proposed Hate-Crime Law

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Friday, June 4, 2021   

FARGO, N.D. -- Efforts to adopt a statewide hate-crime bill stalled in the North Dakota Legislature this year, but there's some action at the local level.

In a preliminary vote this week, the Fargo City Commission advanced a measure, which would make hate crimes a 'Class B' misdemeanor. Violators would receive up to 30 days in jail or a $1,500 fine.

Arden Light, a local resident who is transgender, spoke in support of the proposal, noting they've been the victim of bias-motivated incidents.

With this plan, Light said those who have been targeted can feel they're being lifted up.

"It tells marginalized and oppressed people that the city is trying to make positive, forward movement, and that the officials do actually care," Light remarked.

North Dakota has a statute which deals with discrimination in public places, but its critics say it lacks teeth for not outlawing hate crimes.

Separate legislation this spring, which called for a statewide study of the issue, noted North Dakota has ranked high in bias-motivated crimes per capita. As for the Fargo plan, a commissioner who voted 'no' said it would only lead to more division in the city.

Barry Nelson, organizer for the North Dakota Human Rights Coalition, argued not taking action would be even more divisive. He said the ordinance creates tools for the city to help those who have been victimized.

"Up to this point, people did not know where they should go if they believe they've been the victim of a hate crime," Nelson explained. "They weren't sure if, in fact, the concerns they had were being addressed consistently."

Light added they hope the city will also consider adding an educational component to its response, allowing the victim and suspect to discuss what happened through restorative justice.

"I think if we can get people in a headspace to really listen and to talk, that we can solve not every problem, but some problems," Light contended.

Advocates said while they're hopeful the plan will ultimately win approval, they'll keep pressing commissioners before a final vote.

Disclosure: North Dakota Human Rights Coalition contributes to our fund for reporting on Civil Rights, Human Rights/Racial Justice, LGBTQIA Issues, and Women's Issues. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.


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