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Thursday, March 13, 2008

Hate Crimes Workshop Last Night in Davis: All Crimes Are Not Hate Crimes

In December of 2007, there were two hate crime incidents. One involved the spray painting of two sets of residents. The other involved the vandalism of Holmes Junior High. As it turned out, the second incident involved students of color seeking to either deflect blame or rile up the adults. However, that makes it no less insidious or hurtful to the broader community.

Last night, Jann Murray-Garcia put together a program called: "Arent's All Crimes Hate Crimes? No." The goal is to prevent student hate crimes in Davis. She brought together a broad and diverse group of people to get the message out including Lt. Darren Pytel in the Davis Police Department and Director of Student Services Pam Mari. Also in attendance was Superintendent James Hammond who did the introduction, two school board members President Sheila Allen and Board Member Susan Lovenberg; Climate Coordinator Mel Lewis; Lt. Tom Walz of the Davis Police Department; Supervisor Mariko Yamada; Ombudsman Bob Aaronson. Conspicuously absent was anyone from the District Attorney's Office and anyone either from the City or the City Council.

Dr. Jann Murray-Garcia discussed at length a history of hate crimes in Davis, definitions of hate crimes, means to prevent hate crimes, and what hate crimes mean for a community like Davis.

The presentation was recorded by the folks at Davis Community Television for rebroadcast on Channel 17. I strongly encourage people to watch this presentation it is very informative and deals with a number of myths and misperceptions.

In what follows, I will discussion some of the things that are of most interest that came up during the presentation.

First is the myth that hate crimes or what is sometimes referred to as "bias-related crimes" are aimed at certain "protected" groups with a special status under the law.

According to author David Neiwert writes, “Every citizen, regardless of race, religion, ethnicity, gender or sexual preference, is protected equally. Indeed, the most significant test case for hate crimes laws - Wisconsin v. Mitchell, a unanimous 1993 Supreme Court ruling - involved a white victim and a black perpetrator….” (p. 131). According to U.S. Department of Justice statistics, approximately 20% of hate crimes victims are White.

In a hate crime, the victim is not merely the individual but rather "entire groups of people who share the same characteristic." Moreover, "controlling for type of crime, they leave victims more chronically traumatized."

According to the presentation:
"A 2006 U.S. Department of Justice study reports that there are more than 7,000 hate crimes or bias-related crimes across the country per year.

In an average year, watchdog agencies like Southern Poverty Law Center receive a dozen or so reports of noose incidents from across the country."
Dr. Murray-Garcia also showed in her slides a January 21, 2003 letter to the editor from a Fairfield High School basketball player (see below in the slides and pictures section).
"In 2002, Fairfield High School basketball player, Ian Blair, wrote a letter to the editor of the Davis Enterprise, shocked at the behavior of Davis High School students. By his report, confirmed later at a Davis High student forum, “cheering” students shouted some of the following slurs when Ian came down to their side of the court:


“Who’s your baby’s momma?”

“Food stamps don’t buy a Hummer!” (apparently in reference to then high school star Lebron James, who purchased a Hummer automobile prior to signing with the NBA.)

“Who’s your fifth baby?”

“We go to college; you go to jail!”

Students were reprimanded only for “negative cheering” and “poor sportsmanship,” given what was reported to DHS administrators. Less than two weeks later, the spray painting of the N-word in West Davis occurred."
Dr. Murray-Garcia then went on to describe a series of recent hate crimes perpetrated by Davis Students.
Winter 2002: A white Davis High (DHS) student serially harassed an African American DHS student, ultimately featuring the Black student on a sophisticated web site, frequented by several DHS students, graphically detailing the physical harm he would like to do to this student (whom he named).

February 2003: a White DHS student spray-painted the N-word in red on the cul-de-sac where a high school party had been held the evening before.

October 2003: Four young people, including at least one DHS student, tagged with graffiti and threw more than several dozen eggs at the car of an openly gay Davis man who lived in Central Davis. The victim had a gay pride flag hanging on the door of his townhouse.

December 2004: The newest constructed building of DHS (the P-building) was vandalized with racist and sexually explicit graffiti, targeting an African American staff member by name (with the N-word) and a White female vice principal.

February 2005: During the night, two Davis students vandalized Fairfield Elementary School and Holmes Junior High School (both in Davis) and two Davis churches. They went from rural West Davis to East Davis, causing almost $30,000 worth of damage. They used swastikas, satanist language, and phrases including, “Kill the Jews! Kill the N_g_ers!”

December 2007: The garages of two East Davis homes were vandalized with horribly vulgar hate graffiti. In the house least affected, the writing read, “KKK. F__k N_g_ers.” Two DHS students were arrested. Though the incident was allegedly sparked by a conflict between longstanding friends, the intensity, sophistication and volume of the hate graffiti are particularly disturbing.

December 2007: Five days following the incident above in east Davis, a “large” amount of racist graffiti targeting African Americans and Asians was found on the Holmes Junior High School buildings. Five students were involved and were arrested for felony vandalism. The “ring leader” was allegedly angry with one of the school’s administrators.
Who are those most likely to commit hate crimes? Not surprisingly, not those who are on a "life mission" to commit acts of hate like members of the KKK. Dr. Jann Murray-Garcia cites David Neiwert:
“The reality is that…”local kids’ are in fact the most common perpetrators of bias crimes. Numerous studies have demonstrated that only a small percentage of hate crimes are committed by people with any connection to or background involving organized “hate groups”…What these studies have found instead is that the majority of bias crimes are committed by seemingly normal, mostly law-abiding young people who often see nothing wrong with their behavior. Bias crime offenders are predominantly young white males, typically from working-class or middle class backgrounds. And though ties to hate groups are rare, the perpetrators are clearly inspired by these groups’ rhetoric, shouting their well known slogans, parroting their political rhetoric, and displaying such symbols of white supremacism as the swastika or the Confederate flag." (p.46)
Instead most are committed by what they term as "thrill seekers." This means the hatred behind these crimes is superficial. The offenders are not "profoundly convinced of the legitimate of their criminal acts." They can be more easily dissuaded from repeating them. And the threat of criminal sanctions may be enough to convince a group of "bored young men" to do another activity.

This makes it important to apprehend and deal with hate crime perpetrators at this point in time. It takes a concerted community effort however to do so before they graduate from property crimes to crimes that involve physical injury.

When these crimes are not taken seriously however, the perpetrators become more violent, it tends to be an affront to the offended community. We need to assume that any such crime is the tip of the iceberg until and unless proven otherwise. Moreover, we miss a teachable moment, such as this, for the community and its young people.

Dr. Jann Murray-Garcia repeatedly has found that students are more aware of the hate crime problem than adults.

These are quotes from in-depth interviews that were done with former Davis High School Youth In Focus Student Research Scholars from the academic year 2003-2004. "The students express disappointment with the lack of adult leadership and guidance regarding troublesome issues of race relations in Davis, including the incidence of hate crimes."
"[T]here is a problem and like students know it is a problem more than I think adults do. Students are more aware that there is racial tension and racial inequality in Davis more than adults do.

[T]wo years ago, I mean someone spray painted the, you know, n_g_er on this guy’s lawn pretty much and I look back at my family and no one talked about it at all…It was never talked about…no one would of ever really known about it if this group of African Americans hadn’t, you know, said what the hell is going on…

[W]hat really happened in Davis, um, most of it is swept under the rug and they do a very good job of just keeping things under wraps."
Lt. Darren Pytel of the Davis Police Department discussed a number of crime related issues. One point of particular interest was the difference between hate crimes and a hate incident. A hate crime is an act of bias crime perpetrated against a specific individual. A hate incident is an act that involves the same sorts of features but is not directed against an individual. For instance, if someone spray paints an racial epithet on the home of an African-American that would be a hate crime. But if they spray painted the same thing on a park bench with no clear target, that would be a hate incident.

Pam Mari spent a good deal of time talking about cyber-crimes including cyber-stalking and cyber-bullying. These types of crimes are on the increase as students become more technologically sophisticated.

This was a good start for a community discussion, the one real draw-back was the limited number of people actually from the community.

In what follows is a serious of slide from the presentation that were of most interest. The reader should be warned in advanced that some of these images may be disturbing. However, I think the community needs to see some of these things and the blog is a better vehicle than the newspaper which is governed with strict laws about what they can and cannot publish.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting