By Tim Eberly
Havre Police Chief Kevin Olson said the community has been tender-heartedly color blind with respect to race in the past. And as racial tension directed at people of Middle Eastern descent swirls around the nation on the heels of the terrorist attacks, he wants to keep it that way.
"Harassment, physical assaults and other provocations against people due to their race, religion or gender, are against the law," the chief said. "Any such acts shall be fully investigated and prosecuted to the full extent of the law."
Since the Sept. 11 attacks, Olson said, the police department has received a handful of phone calls reporting suspicious activity by people of Middle Eastern descent. Most of the reports were remarkably similar each with an exaggerated twist and all were unsubstantiated.
"You could see how it was manifesting itself," Olson said. "I think the public awareness is greatly heightened right now, pertaining to national and local security. Based upon that, it's natural to receive these types of calls."
Each call, Olson assured, was properly investigated. And though all calls are welcome, Olson said he hopes Havreites will refrain from racial profiling their neighbors.
"Simply because you may be of Middle Eastern descent, simply because you hold the Muslim belief, doesn't mean that you are a terrorist or a bad person," Olson said.
Nationwide, the FBI has launched at least 40 hate crime investigations into reported attacks on Arab-Americans, including at least two slayings possibly motivated by anti-Arab sentiment.
As a safety precaution, Olson has assigned a police officer to work with the U.S. Border Patrol and Burlington Northern Santa Fe police with the objective of maintaining peace at the Havre train depot.
Since the attacks, more people have been riding trains rather than flying. The increased volume of passengers creates a greater number of tourists walking around downtown Havre during layovers. A small percentage of these travelers, Olson said, will be Arab-American. And Olson is taking the extra measures to ensure their safety.
"Based on the increased passenger load of Amtrak, we believe it to be an essential function of the police department to provide visible police services in and around the depot," Olson said.
Within the last five years, Havre has only had one reported hate crime. The assailant insulted the victim's heritage during an assault.
"I'm proud of the fact that Havre has always been a hospitable community," Olson said. "We've always taken newcomers into our community with open arms. I am hoping that tradition will continue."