By Emily K. Bright, Engage Minnesota
It’s not the first time you’ve been a victim of a hate crime, nor is it the last. It’s 8:30 on a winter evening, and you’re closing up your store. The entrance door is locked, half the lights are off, and you’re mopping at the far end of the room when three men barge in the exit door as though they mean to rob you. Two of the men have their hooded backs to you. One of them you can see. He’s over six feet tall, with short reddish blonde hair and a goatee. You observe this in the moment before he stands and hurls a glass bottle directly at you. You duck. It slams into the wall and explodes into flames. All around you, you hear the sound of glass exploding. The store fills with smoke in seconds. You can’t tell if the men are still there and if they’re waiting for you, but you have to get out. You race through your burning store and out to the road. You wave your arms until a woman stops and calls 911 for you.
The emergency response is quick and the firefighters get the fire out, but your store is ruined. It is your family’s sole source of income, and you have three small children at home. For the next four or five hours, you talk with inspector after inspector. Did you know there was graffiti on your side door? One inspector asks. He leads you over to the door, where you see “Fuck you” and your ethnicity sprawled across the fire door. It was not there before tonight.
You offer to work with a sketch artist to describe the attacker you saw, but you are told “Maybe later.” Each inspector asks you if you were the one who set your store on fire. They ask you to take a polygraph test to prove you are telling the truth, and you do, and pass it. Over the next few days, they get a warrant and search your home for evidence. A woman says she saw the men and can describe them, but she is turned aside as a secondhand witness. There is no media coverage of the event. After two weeks, you call the story in to the neighborhood newspaper. It spreads from there, but it doesn’t get a lot of attention.
Two months later, the police have not filed a final report, which means you cannot make a claim from insurance. You have no work, and there are no leads coming. Everyone in your family is afraid.
Knowing all this happens in Minnesota, and that it happened to Mohammad Ismail in Blaine on January 27, 2008, what are you, reading this now, going to do about it?
What You Can Do
Please come to a town hall meeting for Minnesotans to address this and other hate crimes on Thursday, March 27, at 7 p.m. Location: Anoka Technical College Auditorium, 1335 West Highway 10, Anoka, MN 55303. (Get a map.)