Why should Whitman and the Walla Walla community care about hate?
Hate crimes, hate incidents, and bias incidents happen everywhere in the country. Some hate crimes are high-profile, like the murders of James Byrd, Jr., Matthew Shepard, and Brandon Teena; many more are just as horrific but fail either to be reported as hate crimes or to garner the attention of the media. However, the vast majority of hate crimes (like crimes in general) are smaller-scale: vandalism, threats, and assaults that end in injury but not death. All too often, such crimes go unreported. This happens for a number of reasons: the victim may not trust the local law enforcement, or may be afraid that reporting a crime will make her or him more vulnerable to further attacks. Law enforcement and other service providers may dismiss the incident as "random" or "harmless," or the responding officer or provider may report the crime but fail to record it as a hate crime. But people around the country who are working to combat hate crimes tell us that these supposedly "little" incidents tend to build into much bigger ones. Furthermore, they create a hostile climate for the people they target. This in itself is unjust, and it leads to further polarization of our communities.
Hate incidents (sometimes called bias incidents) are even more common than hate crimes. Every time someone yells bigoted slurs out of the window of a passing car, for example, a hate incident has occurred. To someone not targeted by hate incidents such episodes may seem minor, but to the victims, to their communities, and to those who study hate crimes, they are highly significant. Hate incidents create an unsafe and unwelcoming environment in which those targeted cannot easily grow, flourish, or even carry out everyday functions easily, like walking to the store or to work. Hate incidents keep the visible diversity of our communities at a minimum and thereby impact the quality of life for everyone.
If we don't have an accurate record of hate crimes and hate incidents in our area, we don't know what to address or how to address it. Because hate crimes and hate incidents happen everywhere, we need to assume they are happening here and try to find out more about them. And addressing hate is everyone's responsibility.
How can we prevent hate crimes and hate/bias incidents?
Awareness is an important first step in addressing hate-based actions. This includes knowing the definitions of hate crimes and hate/bias incidents, knowing what kinds of hate crimes and incidents have occurred in your area, and knowing how to respond to the victim and the perpetrator.
Taking an active role is also important. Make sure the people around you know that hate crimes and hate/bias incidents are very serious and that you take them seriously. If you think that someone you know has experienced a hate crime or incident, encourage her or him to report it. If you think that someone you know has perpetrated a hate crime or incident, it is your responsibility to report that person. If you hear someone joking about hate-based or bias-based actions, even if you think that person would never actually commit such an act, challenge her or him. Hate and bias are never funny, and such jokes are deeply threatening to people who might be victimized by such actions.
Take all hate crimes and all hate incidents seriously. Even egging a car is a hate crime, if there is reason to believe the car was egged because of the owner's or driver's identity. Such incidents are scary, they destroy property (egg whites damage paint), and they make a clear statement about who is safe and respected in an area, and who is not. Whether you are a victim or a bystander, you can help our community by taking even the smallest hate crimes and incidents seriously, and by encouraging others to do so as well.
Preventing hate crimes on campus: Tolerance.org, a project run by the Southern Poverty Law Center, suggests "10 ways to fight hate on campus." These are for students, faculty, staff, and administrators, and they include the following: rise up against hate; pull together; speak out; support the victims; name and know hate crimes and bias incidents; understand the media; know your campus; teach tolerance; maintain momentum; and pass the torch. Copies of this publication are available as a PDF file at www.tolerance.org/campus .