Thursday, November 04, 2004

The week in hate

The not-so-fresh scent of intolerance is wafting through the national discourse these days. You can hear it all over the radio -- the right is not only ascendant, but there's a real ugliness rising with it. Liberals, we're being told, had better get in line. Minorities too. Gays and lesbians -- there is no line for you.

Who acts out this mood? Our young people, of course.

One of the ways this ugliness manifests itself is in hate crimes. And in the past week alone, we're seeing a real burst in hate-crime incidents. The vast majority of them involve young whites still in high school or just out.

One case, in the exurban western Washington town of Monroe, has made local headlines. It involved an incident in which a white student at Monroe High School waved a noose at a black student:
The black student told school officials that a length of rope tied into a noose was waved at him in the school's parking lot a week and a half ago, O'Neil said.

... The black student spoke to a Monroe officer last week, Monroe Police Cmdr. Jan O'Neil said. The boy told officers that he'd been harassed for several weeks, she said.

"The student did not come forward right away. He was trying to deal with this on his own, hoping it would go away. He finally got to the point he was tired of it," Jan O'Neil said.

This wasn't the first such incident at the school:
In the last few weeks, a Mexican flag was torn down and thrown into a bathroom, two students of different ethnic minority groups got into a fight, and a black student reported that a white student taunted him with a noose, administrators reported.

Administrators say they don't know who tore down the flag, but the two students involved in he fight were suspended. Monroe police continue to investigate the third case, in which the black student reported three separate incidents, Monroe police spokeswoman Jan O'Neil said.

In addition to the noose allegation, he also reported derogatory comments at a fast food restaurant and inside the school.

As I've discussed previously, one of the most disturbing aspects of the current surge in white-supremacist recruitment activity is that it seems to actually be having an effect on young people, especially in formerly homogeneous populations that are undergoing dramatic demographic shifts.

But it's happening everywhere, really. And in the past week particularly.

In Burlington, Massachusetts, A Jewish high-school teacher had swastikas drawn on the outside of the door to her classroom.

Two young Staten Island men were arrested for attacking a Muslim man at 4 a.m. in his Stony Brook University dorm room.

A Tennessee 15-year-old was arrested for burning a cross and painting graffiti and racial slurs at the home of a black family.

An apparent skinhead (age 20) attacked a black woman in Albany, N.Y.

A freshman at Montclair State University in New Jersey was arrested for dormitory vandalism that included swastikas and racist graffiti, and subsequently charged with a bias crime.

A 21-year-old man in Warren County, Mississippi, was arrested after he drove a bulldozer through a black church, in an act police say was racially motivated.

In the Philly suburbs, racial tensions are nearing a breaking point as violence breaks out on both sides, aggravated by white students wearing Confederate flags and adopting white-supremacist symbols.

Not all of the week's spate of hate crimes were necessarily connected to young people, since the suspects haven't been caught. But the M.O. in those two cases certainly suggests young white men at work.

In San Diego, a Portuguese man was mistaken for a Muslim and was viciously assaulted by a gang of white thugs, who told him to go back to Iraq.

And in Redding, California, someone whited out a Martin Luther King mural at a popular polling place and children's center.

Judging from the anecdotal evidence alone, I will be surprised if we don't see a noteworthy, if not dramatic, spike in hate crimes when the statistics are gathered and reported by the FBI. But we won't know for sure for about another year.

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