Friday, September 21, 2007

Hate Crime: What about the Enablers?

The day after 20,000 people descended on Jena, Louisiana to protest the racist actions against the Jena 6, police in nearby Alexandria arrested two admitted Klansmen (one Klanschild and one adult) for driving around town with two nooses hanging out of the back of their pick up truck in order to intimidate and harass protesters. The 16 year-old told police that his entire family was in the Klan and had KKK tatoos as well as brass knuckles in the vehicle. Following the events in Jena, as well as the obvious implication of the act, one would think that no other charge could be given except that of hate crime. Yet, the police have charged the 18 year-old driver with "contributing to the delinquency of a minor" and the passenger with driving while intoxicated. The police report goes to absurd lengths to avoid charging the two with hate crimes as an entry says "Bias Motive: Racial Anti-Black"(another way to say 'hate crime'), leading Alexandria Mayor Jacques Roy to say that he is "looking into whether the incident was a hate crime."

Firstly, let's discuss for a moment what hate crimes are:

Hate crimes differ from conventional crime because they are not directed simply at an individual, but are meant to cause fear and intimidation in an entire group or class of people.
Clearly the case of the noose hangings in Jena and Alexandria seek to intimidate a specific group of people, given the painfully recent history of Jim Crow, and the effect, like motyat points out, is instantaneous to anyone who witnesses it. In 1993, the Supreme Court ruled unanimously in Wisconsin v. Mitchell that
"bias-motivated crimes are more likely to provoke retaliatory crimes, inflict distinct emotional harms on their victims, and incite community unrest.... The State's desire to redress these perceived harms provides an adequate explanation for its penalty-enhancement provision over and above mere disagreement with offenders' beliefs or biases. As Blackstone said long ago, 'it is but reasonable that, among crimes of different natures, those should be most severely punished which are the most destructive of the public safety and happiness."
Thus, there can be no doubt that these actions were anything less than hate crimes.

To me, following motyat's post on the Jena 6, the fact that politicians and members of the criminal justice are willfully ignoring the racist nature of these crimes is pivotal for understanding the disgusting manifestations of racism aka the hanging of nooses and the confidence of not only Klansmen, but just racists shits in general, to have the confidence to rear their ugly heads. In the most recent International Socialist Review, an interview with Friends of Justice director Alan Bean, reveals the impact of the Jena District Attorney's dismissal of the act as youthful shenanigans:
The incendiary situation that sparked four days of racial violence in early December in Jena, Louisiana, was created by the very man who is now prosecuting these cases: District Attorney Reed Walters. Had Walters and Superintendent Roy Breithaupt called a hate crime by its proper name, the students of Jena High School wouldn’t have been forced to resolve issues far beyond their competence or understanding.
Short, out of school suspensions are NOT the way to stop racism nor make an example of the perpetrators of blatently racist acts.

Like the bigoted rhetoric of politicians like Rick Santorum gives confidence to gay-bashers that they are justified, or the confidence that anti-immigrant racists like Tom Tancredo and Lou Dobbs give rise to vigilante violence by groups such as the Minutemen and other extreme right groups, actions by the DA and other public officials who are not willing to take a call a hate crime a hate crime are PART of the problem. As history shows that we can't rely on politicians to end racism, we need to keep fighting like the 20,000 in Jena and other thousands around the rest of the country to end Jim Crow be it from a Klansmen or a politician who gives him the carte blanche.