Sunday, May 15, 2005

A little talk

I mentioned earlier that I was flying down to Davis, California, last week to give a talk on hate crimes for a local community organization. Jeff Hudson at the Davis Enterprise did a pretty thorough report. I thought this part was worth pointing out:
One widely held myth, he said, is that "hate crimes are commonly committed by 'skinheads' or members of so-called hate groups."

"It's simply not true," Neiwert said, adding that "in reality, only 6 or 7 percent (of hate crimes) are committed by members of an organized hate group. The average (person who commits a hate crime) is a 15-year-old to 19-year-old white male, in every respect an average member of the community. He may have some police contact in his background, or may not. He may have a violent background, or may not."

Very often, communities view young men who are charged with hate crimes as "someone I've known since the third grade. He doesn't wear tattoos or leather. So it's not a hate crime," Neiwert said.

"But the reality is that the vast majority (of hate crimes) are committed by 'the kid next door,' " he added.

Neiwert said "hate crimes are very closely related to bullying. One of the most effective ways to counter the problem is starting when kids are very young. Anti-bullying programs are one of the most important steps you can take to deal with it at an early age. It's often not even a racial issue at that point, it's about power relationships."

A lot of people ask me how we can best make steps to actually preventing hate crimes. And my answer is to look at early education, particularly with regards to bullying. Hate crimes, like those earlier acts, are about power relationships too, and people who learn at an early age to assert their dominance violently are far more likely to do it as adults as well.

I also spent the afternoon with young people at Davis Senior High, which was very rewarding. I don't get to spend enough time with teens, and I have to say I came away very impressed, especially with the thoughtfulness and sincerity of those students who are clearly involved in these issues.

Thanks very much again to Jann Murray-Garcia at Blacks for Effective Community Action for arranging this appearance. She's obviously a gifted organizer, and a fine human being too. And thanks to the folks in Davis who made me feel so welcome.

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