New online tool helps Columbus track hate crimes

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COLUMBUS, Ind. – A new online tool is giving Columbus residents a way to easily report hate crimes to the local Human Rights Commission.

Anyone who feels targeted by a hate crime or bias can visit the city’ website and fill out a digital form. They also have the option to remain anonymous.

“We’re getting lots of reports of people who feel uncomfortable,” said Ian Kohen, chairman of the Human Rights Commission in Columbus. “So, we wanted to make sure we had an opportunity, within the city, to protect those people.”

Kohen says they also want to learn more where these issues are popping up.

“We’re trying to track the number and maybe locations where this is happening,” Kohen said. “If its happening at certain stores or certain parts of the city.”

Columbus is made up of a diverse population. Dozens of international companies have offices in the small Indiana city and more than 50 languages are spoken with the Bartholomew County Consolidated School Corporation.

“It’s really important to community that everyone feels like they belong,” he said.

But there has been some tension. Just last fall, a group of students used hateful words toward some Latino classmates. The kids reportedly chanted “build that wall” while at school.

Members of the Unitarian Universalists Congregation Church of Columbus have been working alongside other community groups to bring together people of different backgrounds. In response to the fall incident, the church helped organized a rally in support of the family who was targeted by the remarks. In March, they organized Hijab Day to foster more understanding of Muslim residents.

“When these isolated things do come out – whether it’s  cruel comment, physical bullying, destruction or physical injury –  that the whole community come together and say this is not who we are,” said Susan Burton, who is the program director at the church.

“I think our challenge is to make sure that range of diversity interacts well and begins to understand each other,” said Allen Gifford, a church board member.

Both say the new online hate crime reporting tool is a positive addition to resources available in the city.

“We want it to be a home for everyone,”Burton said. “We’re all stronger together than we are separately.”

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