IOWA CITY — Law enforcement officials are hoping to help the Iowa City community better understand hate crimes and are encouraging people to reach out if they see anything that might be one.
More than 50 community members had the chance to learn and ask questions about hate crimes during a public forum put on Monday night by law enforcement and the Iowa City branch of the NAACP. Representatives from the University of Iowa and Iowa City police, the county attorney’s office, the FBI, the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the NAACP were on a panel to talk about hate crimes investigation and prosecution processes.
“The more we know, the better it is for everybody so don’t hesitate to call us,” Iowa City Police Chief Jody Matherly said. “We’re asking for you to make that call.”
The forum comes at a time when the community is experiencing a surge of racist, alt-right or white supremacy content. The Gazette reported in February that the University of Iowa had received 20 reports of fliers or vandalism with that kind of messaging in the past 18 months.
“Just know that it is something because of who you are, whether it’s the color of your skin or your race or your sexual orientation ...” Matherly said. “And then there’s a number of crimes that may have occurred to you or your property because of those protective classes, and because of who you are. That may be a hate crime if it’s for that reason.”
Sgt. Derek Frank, Iowa City police spokesman, said the forum was planned because occasionally the department receives calls from people asking what’s happening with a particular case or who they’re working with to solve it.
“We take all of these things very seriously, and we do investigate them whether it is determined to be a crime or not. We go over and above just filing a report,” Frank said. “Even if it’s not a crime, we want to get the message to them that hate-motivated speech or actions are just not welcome in this community.”
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Kayla Carter, a 20-year-old UI sophomore studying global health and African-American studies, asked what community members can do to better combat hate crimes.
Carter, who is a member of the student chapter of the NAACP, said last year she lived in the Young, Gifted and Black Living Learning Community, and someone posted a racist, “hurtful message” in the dorm.
“I just wanted to know what I can do as a person or what we can as a community instead of putting the blame on one group,” Carter said, adding that she learned from UI Director of Public Safety Scott Beckner that university police could assign a liaison to student organizations.
“Knowing them by name and knowing what their face looks like, that could go a long way as far as comfort goes so you’re not living in fear and scared or tensing up whenever they’re around,” Carter said.
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