ST. CLOUD -- After being moved and postponed, the first Acknowledging Bias: Hate Crimes panel was held Wednesday night. To improve safety and security, the event was held at the James W. Miller Center on the Campus of St. Cloud State University.

Hosted by the St. Cloud Area Regional Human Rights Commission, the forum’s panel included Executive Director of the National Council of Jewish Women Minnesota Beth Gendler, Executive Director of National Council on American-Islamic Relations Jaylani Hussein, and Organizer of Outfront Minnesota Justin Lewandowski.

The goal of the event was to start a conversation by defining hate crimes and providing information about how they are monitored, reported and addressed. Lewandowski describes hate crimes as violence against people based on identities that include sexuality, gender, race, and religion.

A criminal act that involves one or more of three specific crime groupings: assault, property damage, and harassment and stalking that is directed towards an individual or group that is perceived or not to be a member of a protected class.

Other topics included how local and state organizations are working to decrease violence, and how people can get involved. Gendler says if you or someone you know has been the victim of a hate crime that it should be reported.

Sometimes our egos get wrapped up in these things and it is not comfortable to admit when we have been a victim because as human beings we like to project a sense of strength, but know that by sharing this, by contributing a data point, you are contributing to information and we all know that knowledge is power.

According to the panelists, recent numbers that suggest hate crimes are dropping in frequency across the state may be due in part to incidents being underreported.

The panel discussion was followed up by a short question and answer session. The second forum is currently being planned for January and will address the role of law enforcement in responding to hate crimes.