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Discussion focuses on hate-crime prevention

The panel session occurs during the week of the 10-year anniversary of a rampage by a self-avowed white supremacist against Jews and ethnic minorities.

August 17, 2009|Martha Groves

Yankel Rosenbaum. James Byrd. Matthew Shepard. Joseph Ileto. David Ritcheson.

The names seem random and disconnected, but one sad trait binds them: Each was the victim of a hate crime. All but one died as a result. The exception, 17-year-old Ritcheson, committed suicide a year after being beaten and sodomized with a patio umbrella pole.

The names of the victims were used as a somber introduction by Ariella Loewenstein, an associate director of the Anti-Defamation League, to a recent panel discussion at the National Council of Jewish Women about hate.

"Whether the victims were attacked because of their race, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity or disability," she told 100 adults and teenagers, "they were intentionally chosen by their perpetrators because of a core part of their identities and the communities they represent."

The discussion coincided with the week of the 10-year anniversary of a calculated rampage by a self-avowed white supremacist against Jews and ethnic minorities, killing a Filipino American postal carrier in Chatsworth and wounding children and workers at the Jewish Community Center in Granada Hills.

"Shadow World: Hate Crimes and Intolerance" was part of a series of brown-bag sessions the council puts on for students, teachers, law enforcement officials and the public.

Edward Dunbar, a clinical professor in UCLA's Department of Psychology, told the audience to imagine a racist stalker, an organizer of a hate-crimes group and a gay basher. "What gender would they be? What race? What education level?" he asked. Then he gave what would seem paradoxical examples of actual hate-crime perpetrators that he has encountered in his research.

"One," he said, "was an international business executive. One was a high school class president. One was a prep school graduate working in an ad agency."

After studying 3,000 rap sheets, Dunbar said, he has concluded that people who commit hate crimes "look like a lot of career criminals, with a lot of risk factors." They tend to not be criminally insane but rather immersed in "hate ideology." More than other violent offenders, they were neglected or abused as children.

Peter Kaupp, acting supervisor of the FBI's civil rights squad in Los Angeles, said that investigating hate crimes is the squad's top priority. For a crime to fall under federal hate-crimes legislation, he said, the perpetrator must be motivated by bias and must use or threaten force, and the victim must be participating in a federally protected activity.

Since the Hate Crimes Statistics Act was passed in 1990, the FBI has compiled nationwide data on victims and offenders. In 2007, the number of hate crimes was 7,624. Of those, about half were motivated by race; the rest involved religion, sexual orientation, ethnicity or national origin, or disability.

Loewenstein said the Anti-Defamation League drafted model hate-crime legislation in 1981. Since then, 45 states and the District of Columbia have enacted laws similar to the model, which the U.S. Supreme Court in 1993 unanimously deemed constitutional. The league has spent the last decade working to expand federal laws governing hate crimes.

Stephen F. Rohde, a constitutional lawyer and past president of the American Civil Liberties Union, said he approached the topic as a free-speech advocate. He cautioned the audience not to equate hate speech with hate crimes.

"It is not generally a crime to express intolerance," he said, "but it is against the law to commit crimes because of this intolerance."

Rohde said education is the best remedy for hatred and intolerance, adding that he was happy to see students in the crowd. "The best disinfectant is the bright light of scrutiny and exposure," he said.

Moderator Dave Bryan, a political reporter for KCBS and KCAL, prompted spirited debates when he asked whether rape or assaults on homeless people should be considered hate crimes. At what point do lawmakers dilute protection by delineating too many categories?

"Where do we draw the line?" Rohde wondered. "When will another group claim the right to protection?"

Such questions gave Brandon De Jesus, 16, a Filipino American student at Walt Whitman High School, a greater appreciation for nuances.

"It's a really complicated thing," he said. "It's hard to say what is and isn't a hate crime."

--

martha.groves@latimes.com

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