Menahga City Council condemns hate crime
Following a spate of slurs and derogatory comments spray painted on public and private property, the Menahga City Council passed a resolution on Monday, Aug. 29 condemning hate speech and reaffirming the city’s commitment to the “wellbeing and safety of all people, especially people of the Black, Indigenous, Latinx, Jewish, Muslim, Arab, Asian American, LGBTQI communities.”
The Menahga Police Department is investigating recent acts of hate crime.
“The vandalism has slowly escalated around here,” Interim City Administrator Betty Thomsen said at Monday’s Menahga City Council meeting. “If you live in this town and you haven’t heard hate crime happened here, I found it hard to believe, but it did happen.”
She provided a list of vandalism in the past few months, such as smashed mailboxes on the west and northwest part of the city, a portable bathroom tipped over and furniture in the trees by the boat landing, graffiti on the beach retaining wall twice, destruction and feces in the beach house bathrooms, damage to the cemetery fence and, most recently, derogatory comments spray painted on the Lakes Area Cooperative building on Aug. 21.
Thomsen contacted the city’s legal counsel to draw up a council resolution condemning hate speech and reaffirming the city’s commitment to the “wellbeing and safety of all people, especially people of the Black, Indigenous, Latinx, Jewish, Muslim, Arab, Asian American, LGBTQI communities.”
“There is an option the city could offer a reward,” she added. Thomsen explained that, under Minnesota Statute, they could offer up to a $1,500 reward for information leading to a conviction.
Pointing out that hate crime is a felony, Mayor Liz Olson was in favor of a reward.
Thomsen asked Police Chief Adam Gunderson how the investigation was coming along.
“We have some suspects,” Gunderson replied.
Olson asked him if it was necessary to put out a reward.
“I would say give us about a week and a half,” he said.
The council decided to postpone a reward at this time.
The resolution passed unanimously, with council member Art Huebner absent. It stated, in part, “The city of Menahga recognizes and celebrates the diversity of the Menahga community, including people of all nationalities, races, religions, beliefs and identities. The city of Menahga is dedicated to creating a safe and welcoming community for all to live, work and visit. Over the past several months, public and private property in the city of Menahga has been vandalized, destroyed and marked with hateful speech toward members of our community, based on their race, creed and identity.”
The resolution describes the “serious crimes” as “atrocious acts of cowardice, intended to divide and instill fear in the Menahga community.”
Thomsen quizzed the audience on their reactions. “Disturbing” and “disgraceful” were some of the responses.
Council member Dan Warmbold said the school was hit as well with a political statement.
Council member Durwin Tomperi commented that there may have been other vandalism that was never reported. He wondered if the police department could schedule more coverage from sundown to sunrise or late-night shifts.
Gunderson said some of the incidents occurred during a police officer’s shift and some didn’t.
Thomsen noted the police budget proposes Saturday and Sunday daytime coverage, but Olson questioned whether crime happens at that time.
Warmbold said a Lakes Area Coop staff member thinks that incident occurred between 5 and 8 a.m. because when he touched the paint it was still wet.
Temporary technician Jensine Kurtti said someone wrote “a nasty slur” across the top of the retaining wall at Spirit Lake.
Even if the person is underage, Gunderson said, “It’s considered a hate crime because of what they spray painted.”
Tomperi said, “This is starting to ramp up and become a community problem. We need to squash it right now.”
Gunderson affirmed that the police department is enforcing a 10 p.m. curfew.
Anyone with information that may lead to the identification and apprehension of those responsible should contact the Menahga Police Department.