Hate crimes fester in pool of ignorance

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By Matt Gallagher (Athens Insider editor)
February 13, 2002
Athens Insider


Hate crime is crime that violates us all. No one fits what some people deem morally upright and all-American. Everyone has some part of them that doesn’t fit the bias of hate, and society at large is a victim when hate attacks those who don’t fit its image.

Matthew Shepard, left beaten and bleeding to die on a fence post in 1998 because of his sexual orientation, was a crime victim far away in Wyoming. But the crime could just as easily happened in our backyard.

After Sept. 11, hundreds of people twisted patriotism into a can of spray paint, a brick through a window, splashed gasoline and a lit match. Hate can attack the very foundation of our belief in freedom and individuality with a fireball bigger than a United airplane striking a tower in an explosion of cinder and flames.

In the year 2000, 8,063 hate crime instances were reported to the FBI, about 50 percent because of racial bias, about 20 percent because of religious bias, 16 percent because of sexual orientation bias, and about 10 percent because of ethnicity and national origin bias, according to the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report.

After a freshman woman walking home from an Open Doors dance party was assaulted behind Lincoln Hall because of her sexual orientation, and two other women were sexually assaulted, 200 Ohio University students and community members walked out of their classes and work to show that such crimes will not be ignored.

The students protested the university’s handling of the situation and asked for mandatory sexual assault and hate crime prevention workshops for first-year students; asked the university to designate gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender friendly floors in all residence halls; and asked for a coalition with other Ohio schools to lobby against the passage of House Bill 234. The bill prevents granting domestic partner employee benefits.

The assault against the OU student has been named Crime of the Month by Athens County Crime Solvers Anonymous, which means a $500 reward is being offered for confidential information leading to the arrest and indictment of persons involved in committing the crime, said Tony Camechis, associate director for the OU Police Department. Crime Solver’s Anonymous can be reached at 594-3331.

Education is a key combatant to hate but OU is lacking when it comes to diversity education, said Rev. Jan Griesinger, director of United Campus Ministry. She’d like to see more multi-cultural programs and classes that raise awraness of diversity, as well as classes that address the issue of hate crime.

While OU currently runs a self-defense class through the OU Police Department, the class is always overbooked and does not meet the demanding need for self-defense education, Griesinger said. She’d like to see more self-defense classes and she’d like the classes to be taught by women.

“Women are much more aware of how other women feel, and they can empower each other, encourage each other to take control of the situation,” said Griesinger. “It can make the difference in the way a woman walks, makes them feel more confident and ready to deal with the situation.”

Oftentimes hate crimes go unreported, especially in a small town like Athens, [Mickey] Hart [, director of OU’s office of LGBT Programs,] said. When one is reported, it has a greater impact than it would in a big city because we have a certain comfort level in Athens that isn’t always present in big cities like Columbus and Cincinnati.

“When we are comfortable, we aren’t expecting things like this to happen,” said Hart. “When it does happen, it has a bigger impact than [at] large colleges like Ohio State University, where crime happens more frequently.”

When we don’t report hate crimes, we allow them to be perpetuated. While only 8,000 hate crimes were reported for 2000, the Southern Poverty Law Center in Montgomery, Ala., concluded that the number of hate crimes was probably close to 50,000 per year, according to the article “FBI Data Miss Hate Crimes” by Darryl Fears in the Nov. 29, 2001 edition of the Washington Post. When a swastika wa spray-painted on a car in Oregon, police dismissed the crime because the owner wasn’t Jewish, the article stated.

Hate crimes are a product of ignorance and will only go away if we report them, discuss them and educate one another. Ignore the situation, and the bully gets his way. Educate and discuss, and we look the bully in the eye and make the walk home safe again.

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