As a community, we’re embarrassed. An alleged hate crime at the Twin Falls Walmart store three days before Christmas reminds us that, as diverse a city as Twin Falls has become, tolerance is a lesson we’re still learning.
Police say a Twin Falls man threatened a Muslim woman who was shopping at Walmart on Wednesday and told her he had a concealed weapon.
According to police, he approached the woman — who was wearing a traditional Muslim head covering and dress and was accompanied by her two children — and asked if she was Muslim.
When the woman said she was, he reportedly told her he spent 2 1/2 years in Iraq and “my friends were killed by you, I was blown up by you,” according to court records.
Witnesses interviewed by police said they heard the suspect shout at the woman, use profanities and make several references to his concealed weapon, according to court records. He also allegedly yelled that the woman “didn’t belong here in the U.S.,” according to the court affidavit.
After the woman told him her father had died for his country, the suspect allegedly screamed at her, asking why she’s Muslim, according to the affidavit.
He also allegedly told the woman he had killed lots of Muslims and planned to kill more, court records say. The woman, when interviewed by police, said she was frightened by the threats.
Police found the suspect in his vehicle, where an officer removed a loaded handgun from the center console, according to the affidavit.
John C. Larsen, 42, was arraigned Thursday on a charge of felony malicious harassment in Twin Falls County 5th District Court. A preliminary hearing is scheduled for Dec. 30.
It’s important to remember that although Larsen has been charged with this crime, he hasn’t been convicted.
But it’s equally important to appreciate that this community does not tolerate hate crimes.
“This behavior cannot be condoned,” Lt. Craig Stotts said. “In the United States of America, as long as people are obeying the laws, they are allowed to go about their lives without being threatened for their religious beliefs or their ethnicity.”
Prompted by northern Idaho human rights activists reacting to the white supremacist Aryan Nations, Idaho developed fairly robust hate crimes laws, although they don’t protect victims of crime because of sexual orientation. The Legislature should add that provision.
There’s also a federal hate crimes law that prosecutors can use.
Last year a Nampa man and a Middleton man were convicted by a jury of beating an African American as he left a Walmart in Nampa. Both are serving time in federal prison.
We hope the victim of the Twin Falls Walmart incident and her two children will understand that last week’s events don’t represent this community. Law-abiding neighbors are welcome here.