Monday, November 30, 2009

Hate Crimes on the Rise



America becoming 'post racial'?

Maybe we need to take a deep breath and start working on it in 2010. So far we've not gotten the hang of it. A recent report says that hate crimes have spiked as we end the first decade of the 21st century.

Conservative religious leaders did their best to defeat the federal hate crimes bill passed by Congress earlier this year. This included ominous warnings of pastors being arrested in their pulpits for preaching the Gospel, if they preached their convictions stemming from their interpretations of the Bible's teaching on homosexuality. Actually, given some of the venomous, mean spirited, hypocritical, unreflective and almost hateful rhetoric I've heard in some pulpits, that might not be such a bad idea, but - again - take a deep breath. The legislation harbingers nothing of the sort.

Yet FBI statistics show that hate crimes based on sexual orientation, race, and religion is on the rise.

"Following close behind religiously motivated hate crimes were racially motivated attacks against African-American targets, which rose more that 8 percent in 2008 -- the year that saw the first African-American in history secure a major party nomination, and then win the general election to become the first black president. The rise in anti-black crimes -- from 2,658 in 2007 to 2,876 in 2008 -- contrasts with a decline in attacks against whites, from 749 in 2007 down to 716 in 2008."

"As has been the case for several years, racially motivated attacks account for about half of all bias crimes (51.3 percent) and religiously motivated attacks were next at 19.5 percent, followed by crimes linked to sexual orientation, at 16.7 percent of all attacks."

Still another report by the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights Education Fund says that continued attacks on African-American citizens are the most prevalent criminal assaults and crimes against property based on hatred.

"African Americans remain by far the most frequent victims of hate crimes. Of the 7,624 hate
crime incidents reported nationwide in 2007, the most recent year for which data is available, 34 percent (2,659) were perpetrated against African Americans, a number and percentage of incidents that has changed little over the past 10 years",
says the LCCREF report.

It provides the following examples:

On Election Night 2008, Ralph Nicoletti and Michael Contreras, both 18, and Brian Carranza, 21, of Staten Island, New York decided shortly after learning of Barack Obama’s election victory “to find African Americans to assault,” according to a federal indictment and other court filings. The men then drove to a predominantly African-American neighborhood in Staten Island, where they came upon a 17 year-old African American who was walking home after watching the election at a friend’s house. One of the defendants yelled “Obama!” Then, the men got out of the car and beat the youth with a metal pipe and a collapsible police baton, injuring his head and legs. The men went on to commit additional assaults that night.

Justin Sigler, 19, of Natchitoches, Louisiana, pleaded guilty in December 2008 to conspiring with two other individuals to violate the civil rights of a man in Lena, Louisiana who was the first African American to move into a home in the neighborhood. Sigler and two others fired shotguns at a target on a field adjacent to the victim’s property before one member of the group turned his shotgun away from the target and toward the victim and his house. The next evening, Sigler, dressed in a white robe as a member of the Ku Klux Klan, went with his coconspirators to a field adjacent to the victim’s residence and shouted, “White Power!” and “White Knights!”

Benjamin Haskell, 22, Michael Jacques, 24, and Thomas Gleason, 21, all of Springfield, Mass., were arrested on January 16, 2009 for allegedly burning and entirely destroying the Macedonia Church of God in Christ, a predominantly African-American congregation’s nearly completed
new church building. The building was burned to the ground on Nov. 5, 2008, hours after the election of President Barack Obama. Investigators determined the fire was caused by gasoline applied to the exterior and interior of the building. The three men were indicted by a federal grand jury on January 27, 2009 for conspiring to burn the church in retaliation for the election results.

For those who think that these incidents are unrelated to a mood of intolerance in our country, the report goes on to say, "According to the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), the number of hate
groups operating in the United States increased more than four percent in 2008 and has grown by 54 percent since 2000."


The facts appear to point to an inveterate fear of lose of power and preeminence among a growing demographic in the U.S. We've seen flames of that fear fanned in political rallies, in protests in our nation's capitol and the subtle and not so subtle rants of television 'news' pundits. It is definitely seen in the vitriolic posts and responses shouted behind the thick curtain of anonymity afforded by the Internet.

What are we to do?

First, we ought to realize that the significant progress made in race relations over the past several decades does not indicate a coming 'post racial age'. That is naive. The very idea of a Black man in the White House has spawned all manner of evidence that from sophisticated but thinly veiled efforts to delegitimize Barak Obama's presidency to the outright hatred of bigots who have no problem referring to him as a monkey or terrorist are based on race hatred. But its obviously done more than that.

The election of an African-American as president has caused some of the least hinged elements in our country to see a danger in the prospects of political and social equality. Rather than see it as an embarrassment to publicly foment hatred, they believe that there is something about this progress in our country that makes it acceptable to not only be disrespectful, but to commit violence.

Such attitudes should never be tolerated, whether they are expressed in private conversation or in public protests. They should be met with sharp and quick rebuke by those who see it for what it is - a dangerous, dangerous expression of hatred that will rip the fragile fabric of our society apart if tolerated or ignored.

It has become incredibly interesting to me, especially in light of these two reports, that violence committed by minorities, particularly African-Americans, is seen as a collective pathology to be associated with the race. However, the centuries of violence perpetrated by whites on Black people and other minorities is to be seen as isolated incidents of extremists and bigots, even when it is condoned by social custom and public policy.

This is why hate crime legislation is needed. It is designed to serve as a deterrent to those who think they have a right to commit violence and intimidate people because of race, sexual orientation and religion. Some may say this is the criminalization of thought. I see it in the same way Martin Luther King saw it:

"The law may not be able to keep a man from hating me. But it can sure keep a man from lynching me!"

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