Friday, November 23, 2007

Hate Crimes Laws in America are spelled W-E-A-K

According to statistician Caroline Harlow, an ordinary crime becomes a hate crime when a perpetrator chooses a victim because of a particular characteristic. It can be skin color, sexual orientation, physical disability or religion. And there must be evidence that hate prompted the crime.

I would argue that we should not base hate crimes solely on physical attacks. The psychological damage is as bad if not worse than physical violence. Intimidating and threatening others through symbols or language of hatred are intolerable. How would you feel if you were attacked for who you were, and then when you tried to do something about it were told to "keep quiet" or "not to worry about it?" Would you not feel and intense mix of outrage and helplessness? To have these situations exist anywhere is intolerable. We cannot be called a civil society unless we confront them directly.

Let's say someone displays a noose in front of African Americans or says all Jews should have died in Auschwitz. What this person saying is that something is inherently wrong with these groups of people. Somehow they are inadequate or inferior. It may just be pure hatred, all of the above and more. Either way, to have this communicated is violence. It is the same as holding a gun to someone's head and saying "you must die today because you exist." But it is worse because currently, you really cannot do much about it.

Would punishing someone in America for these types of hate crimes go against the admirable First Amendment? Many would say neo-nazis and skinheads have freedom of speech, and I agree. But everyone must be held accountable for their actions. You can't go into an airport and start talking freely about bombs and hijackings. You can't even joke about it - terrorism is a serious matter. No one disputes that. But when you talk about race relations or homophobia, people think minorities are whining or asking for special treatment. White Americans frequently get angry about the perceived "special treatment" because they have no personal experience on the receiving end. White Americans consider the vague threat of terrorism more a priority than the immediate fact of hatred permeating throughout our culture.

The outrage over this issue in White America is quite pronounced, the unapologetic apathy that is. Few seem to think that the remarks by Don Imus were much to worry about. Please forgive me for repeating them, because they illustrate this situation more clearly. He called women from a college basketball team "nappy-headed hos." Not only did he degrade them for being women, but also for being of African descent. And White America remained mute, until asked by the media what they thought. Then a majority simply said they did not care, a majority of 90%.

Polls show that when Don Imus was fired over his remarks 48% thought MSNBC was too harsh, 47% thought it was about right, and 4% thought they were too lenient. Imus attacks the existence of African American women and all he loses is his job. Gabriel Keith displays a noose to fellow college journalists, and only loses his job. Don and Gabriel and start working on something else, but their actions have left wounds and scars that they refuse to acknowledge.

America's hate crime laws do not stand on their own. They are simply attached to existing laws that threatens a persons physical existence that are no less important (i.e. threats,assault,rape, ). Are we really supporting a person's right to exist? Intimidation - AKA criminal threatening - is defined as fear of imminent bodily injury. Displaying a noose is not within the current parameters, unless we include mental and emotional disturbance. These explicit changes are necessary, lest we ignore the elaborate system of racism inherent in our society. And by ignoring them, we are complicit in allowing them to continue.

Racism is defined as prejudice plus power. One measures racism in society by results, the facts and statistics that give us a portrait of where we are. The polls of Americans clearly show we consider hatred to be a non-issue. We must confront the fact that we are essentially a society that is filled with hate and have yet to confront it. America is in denial of the problem, and therefore cannot face it.

So when you see acts of bigotry, hatred, and bias in yourself and others - make it known to as many as you can. Confronting such acts have a ripple effect in a nation like ours, still basking in ignorance. Shine a bright light on the wrongdoings and wake our society up from its complacency, in what capacity you can.

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