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Reported hate crime sounds alarms

Local officials fear that racial tensions might be bubbling to the surface again.

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Posted: Monday, September 5, 2011 12:00 am | Updated: 6:22 am, Mon Sep 5, 2011.

CENTRALIA, Iowa -- A possible hate crime Saturday morning just north of Centralia has local leaders concerned that old stereotypes might be resurfacing.

The Dubuque County Sheriff's Department was notified of a potential first-degree arson and first-degree burglary with the element of a hate crime around 5:56 a.m. Saturday.

A family woke to the sound of its smoke detectors and discovered someone entered the home and set fire to the kitchen rugs. A family member immediately put out the fire.

Further examination revealed a racial slur spray-painted in green on the garage door, according to sheriff's reports.

The case has been taken over by the investigative division of the Dubuque County Sheriff's Department. The FBI Hate Crimes Division is assisting in the investigation.

While the investigation continues, Dubuque City Council member Lynn Sutton is worried that allegations of hate crimes she has heard about in the past six months to a year are starting to come to fruition.

"This is one of my fears, that one of these allegations will happen, that stereotypes will come out in the community again" said Sutton, who was appointed to the council in March. She also has served on the Human Rights Commission. "It's hard for people to come forward about these things because they are afraid."

Sutton is the first black person to serve on the council. She said other City Council members have heard rumblings of racial tension in the community in the past six months to a year. Council member Karla Braig worked on race relations for more than 10 years as a member of the Human Rights Commission.

"Race relations are like a little stream that goes underground for a while, but then bubbles up to the surface," Braig said. "I don't know what makes it bubble over, but it does."

Braig said she doesn't know specifics about Saturday's possible hate crime, but said it's something everyone needs to pay attention to.

She said race relations are a constant work in progress.

"Anyone who says Dubuque is free of racial prejudice is delusional," Braig said. "We're not over it yet. If anyone thinks we are, they're wrong."

Anyone with information on the crime is urged to contact the department at 563-589-4415 or Dubuque/Jo Daviess Crime Stoppers at 800-747-0117.

There is a cash reward of up to $1,000 for any information that leads to an arrest.

Sutton said she hopes the increase in minorities who have moved into the area does not lead to more allegations, racial comments and hate crimes.

"A lot of people have never had to live around someone different than them," Sutton said.

"And when they do, here comes that fear factor. Rather than introduce themself, they have fear of the unknown and react.

"We all have to live with each other. That's the bottom line."

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