Saturday, July 07, 2007

Hate crimes and the victim

I was deeply saddened to read this account of the death of David Ritcheson, the Latino teenager from Houston who was brutally assaulted last year by a couple of white-supremacist punks:
David Ritcheson's wounds finally seemed to be healing. After the Mexican-American teen was beaten nearly to death and sexually assaulted in 2006 by two young men yelling “white power” slogans, he struggled to overcome immeasurable physical and emotional trauma. But there he was in April, testifying at a congressional hearing in favor of hate-crimes legislation, publicly recounting the horror he had endured. Dressed in a smart suit, the cherubic high-school senior from suburban Houston spoke in a clear, strong voice. “I appear before you as a survivor of one of the most despicable, shocking and heinous acts of hate violence this country has seen in decades,” Ritcheson said. Yet in the aftermath, “as each day passed, I became more and more aware of everything I had to live for. I am glad to tell you today that my best days still lay ahead of me.”

Yet his wounds evidently continued to torment him. On Sunday, Ritcheson, 18, died after leaping from the upper deck of a cruise ship in the Gulf of Mexico. A trip he’d planned as a summer escape with some buddies ended instead in tragedy. His parents, who flew to Mexico to meet up with the ship, returned to Texas with Ritcheson’s body on Thursday. Now the FBI is investigating the circumstances surrounding his death. Among the unconfirmed reports that have already surfaced: that passengers and crew members tried to talk Ritcheson down and set out mattresses to catch his fall; that he was seen drinking in the ship’s dance club Saturday night, and that one girl told her mother before Ritcheson’s death that she’d overheard a young man mention to his friends that he wanted to jump overboard. Many questions remain unanswered, says the family’s attorney, Carlos Leon, but “ultimately, whatever David did that morning was absolutely related to what had happened to him and the pain he was in.”

What's especially sad about this case is that there was so little anyone could do; the scars inflicted by hate crimes are uniquely deep and cruel, and rarely do they heal readily, even with the finest counseling and best family support. A study of bias crimes against gays and lesbians noted this:
Victims of hate crimes undergo higher levels of psychological distress, including post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and anger, than victims of other crimes, said Greg Herek, PhD, research psychologist at the University of California, Davis, who spoke on the impact of anti-gay/lesbian victimization at the briefing. Herek, whose research was funded by the National Institute of Mental Health, attended the White House conference as APA’s representative.

Hate crimes can cause victims to view the world and people in it as malevolent and experience a reduced sense of control, Herek said. According to his research, hate crime victims needed as much as five years to overcome the emotional distress of the incident compared with victims of nonbias crimes, who experienced a drop in crime-related psychological problems within two years of the crime.

Undoubtedly David Ritcheson's wounds were deepened by the grotesque humiliation he suffered at the hands of the thugs: they violated him with a plastic pole and scarred him by pouring bleach into and over him. But that kind of extreme violence is also part of the nature of hate crimes, as I explained in Chapter 5 of Death on the Fourth of July:
While data and studies have given us a pretty clear picture of the typical hate-crime offender, no one has ever compiled a psychological profile of the typical hate-crime victim. This is partly because these victims are notoriously difficult to study; most of them are so traumatized by the crimes that they often refuse to participate in such work.

Mostly, however, it's because hate crimes can happen to literally anyone and can occur at any time, in no small part because of the random elements in the perpetrators' victim-selection process -- that is, most victims are complete strangers to the offender, chosen only because of their perceived membership in the target group. Nearly any race, religion or sexual orientation can inspire bias-motivated violence, and indeed one need not even actually belong to the target group to fall victim to a hate crime; witness the not-insubstantial number of heterosexual victims of gay-bashing.

That said, it is clear that in twenty-first-century America, minorities are far more likely to be victims of hate crimes than anyone else. In 2001, for example, 10,898 of the 12,020 victims of hate crimes reported to the FBI were various kinds of minorities. A pattern of victimization risk also emerges from the data: race is the most common motivator, with African Americans the most vulnerable targets; Jews and gay men are the second- and third-most likely targets, respectively.

Perhaps just as significant, the data reveals that these are more likely to be violent crimes. Criminal-justice expert Barbara Perry points to FBI statistics that reveal wide disparities in the levels of violence between bias crimes and "normal" street crimes. "It is apparent that hate crime . . . is much more likely to involve physical threat and harm to individuals, rather than property," she writes:

Consequently, such victims are also more likely to be at the receiving end of excessively brutal violence. To the extent that hate crime perpetrators are motivated by fear, hatred, mistrust, or resentment of victims, for example, they are more likely to engage in extreme violence -- violence which is beyond that necessary to subdue the victim.

... What we also know about the victims of bias crime is that they are substantially harmed well over and above what befalls victims of the simpler versions of the same crimes, perpetrated with ordinary motives (what is known as the underlying or "parallel" crime behind these acts, such as simple assault, vandalism or threatening); for instance, some studies have found that bias-crime victims often experience post-trauma psychological stress syndromes similar to those experienced by rape victims, because the sense of violation can be so profound. The result is a commingling of shame, fear and rage.

"Short-term, the impact is the acute, intense paranoia of 'Do I go out of my house? Do I have deliveries brought in, or can I trust that person, either?'" says Susan Xenarios, director of St. Luke's-Roosevelt Hospital Center Rape Intervention Program/Crime Victims Assessment Project in Long Island, New York. "The other extreme is pure rage. Or sometimes you get rage and fear together, and that's hard to stabilize." And over time, she adds, "if you don't deal with the crisis reactions, they become worse."

"There's something different about being attacked simply for who you are -- for your basic identity as a person, as opposed to being selected for what you have or what you are doing," says Joan Weiss, executive director of the Justice Research and Statistics Association and former executive director of the National Institute Against Prejudice and Violence, who studied bias crimes and their victims extensively between 1981 and 1992. "This is not to minimize the harm that befalls people in any kind of violent crime. But when your identity is assaulted as well, it creates another level of trauma. And we see this manifest itself with bias-crime victims in all kinds of ways: severe depression, a heightened level of persistent anxiety, extreme withdrawal, a profound sense of isolation."

Indeed, one of Weiss' studies -- a survey of violence in the workplace -- found that bias-crime victims were significantly more likely to experience psychophysiological symptoms, some of them debilitating, than people who had experienced non-bias-related crimes. And although white victims of bias crimes were just as likely as non-whites to experience increased trauma, non-whites were more likely to adopt certain defensive behavioral postures as a result, including watching their children more closely, making themselves "less visible," and moving out of their old neighborhoods.

There is also a secondary level of victimization that can occur with hate crimes: they create a fear of exposure, particularly if the kind of minority group to which the victim belongs experiences real discrimination or social difficulties in the community anyway. Lesbians and gay males are the most vivid example of this; most of them fear, not unreasonably, that merely admitting to being the target of a hate crime implicates them as homosexuals, essentially forcing them "out of the closet" when in many cases they have personal and professional reasons to keep their status private. More to the point, gays and lesbians can in many states lose their jobs, face evictions from their housing, or may be denied access to public services and accommodations, and legally so—all if their sexual orientation is disclosed as the result of a gay-bashing assault.

This is true of other minorities as well, particularly immigrants, many of whom may fear deportation if they report a crime perpetrated against them, and may themselves mistrust authorities if they come from a culture with a corrupt or oppressive police force. In communities with a history of conflict between minority groups and police, this distrust is often amplified. "So even if you promise them that this is not going to be an issue if they press charges, they don't believe you," says Joan Weiss. "Why should they believe you? It can feel too risky."

In addition, other obstacles arise in such situations: language barriers can create misunderstandings; many minorities may not even be aware that what has befallen them is a serious crime; and cultural differences and private fears can prevent the victims from being completely forthcoming. A person from a traditional and deeply law-abiding background who has stolen a kitchen knife in the process of defending himself during a bias crime may well lie about the theft to police out of simple fear of being in trouble with the law for committing even the minor crime that the theft represents.

All of these factors combine to make hate-crime victims, and minorities especially, deeply reluctant to even participate in an investigation, and ultimately less likely to report the crimes as well—something that the studies of bias-crime victims have repeatedly observed. This in turn raises the critical role played by police and other law-enforcement officials, particularly prosecutors, in their handling of both the victims and the crime scene itself.

When I wrote Death on the Fourth of July, I became much more interested in what befalls the victims of these crimes, and set about intentionally refusing to focus on the perpetrators of the crime (in this case, a group of young locals led by a violence-prone thug named Chris Kinison), though I do of course discuss their motives and behavior. But the deeper nature of hate crimes is revealed, I think, is revealed by understanding what happens to people who are their victims -- the extraordinary fear, the profound pscyhological effects both for the short and long terms, and of course the broader community effects, particularly the terroristic effect on the generic targets of the crimes.

The chief victim in the Ocean Shores case that the book was about -- a Vietnamese immigrant named Minh Hong -- was permanently and irrevocably scarred by his experience. He is, like most such victims, someone who deserves better. So did David Ritcheson.

Hate and the military

Last year, the Southern Poverty law Center issued a report on the growing infiltration of white supremacists within the military, in no small part because of the Pentagon's need for fresh cannon fodder in Iraq.

Now, according to a followup report by Joe Jackson at Port Folio Weekly, it's becoming painfully self-evident the military has little intention of changing things.

Jackson describes the extremist activism of a Navy PIO named John Sharpe, who also operates a couple of far-right Catholic organizations out of his home that specialize in classic anti-Semitic hatemongering:
The questions concern his involvement with the Legion of St. Louis and the IHS Press, which he runs from his home in Carrolton, Isle of Wight County. In March 2007, the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC)—a national watchdog organization that tracks hate groups and racism—identified them as among "the most nakedly anti-Semitic organizations in the entire radical traditionalist Catholic pantheon." This pantheon is bound by the certainty that Jews, Masons and others have conspired to topple the Catholic Church for 300 years. The SPLC’s report, entitled "The Dirty Dozen," claimed that "Sharpe blames the 9/11 attacks not on Al Qaeda but on ‘Judeo-Masonry.’" Sharpe’s writings were quoted, including his assertion that the "temporal power that the Jews have achieved since . . . 1798 is both pervasive and relatively unchallenged."

Jackson goes on to note that Sharpe's activities only heightened concerns raised by the SPLC about the infiltration of extremists and gang members in the ranks of soldiers being recruited for service in Iraq:
The timing could not have been worse for John Sharpe. In Summer 2006—one decade after the Pentagon declared a zero-tolerance policy for racist hate groups—the SPLC reported that recruiting shortfalls caused by the war in Iraq have allowed "large numbers of neo-Nazis and skinhead extremists" to infiltrate the military to get training for a race war. The SPLC, citing interviews with Department of Defense investigators and its own monitoring of racist magazines and Web sites, estimated the numbers could run into the thousands. "We’ve got Aryan Nations graffiti in Baghdad," DOD gang investigator Scott Barfield told the SPLC’s Intelligence Report. "That’s a problem." The New York Times publicized the report, followed by the national and international media.

One consequence of the coverage was the perception that the military was sweeping the problem under the rug. "Recruiters are knowingly allowing neo-Nazis and white supremacists to join the armed forces," Barfield said, "and commanders don’t remove them . . . even after we positively identify them as extremists or gang members." The military downplayed a neo-Nazi presence in the ranks, Barfield added, "because then parents who are already worried about their kids signing up and dying in Iraq are going to be even more reluctant about their kids enlisting if they feel they’ll be exposed to gangs and white supremacists."

What stands out is the official response -- denial, denial, denial:
The SPLC called on then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to appoint a task force and design a new response, but on Sept. 26, 2006, Under Secretary of Defense David Chu wrote to the SPLC that their findings were "inaccurate and misleadingly alarmist. Extremist activity is antithetical to the values of our armed forces. We already have the ‘zero tolerance’ policy that you recommend." The fact that Scott Barfield resigned from the military on Aug. 15, 2006, after being reprimanded for violating regulations on interactions with the media, added to the perception that the Defense Department did not like an airing of its dirty laundry.

"There’s an old saying: ‘The military will never admit to having a problem until they have a solution to the problem,’" said Hunter Glass, a former sergeant with the 82nd Airborne Division and now a nationally recognized expert on gangs in the military. Barfield, who reportedly felt "burned" by the military and media alike, could not be reached for this report, but Glass—who knows him and is reportedly his mentor—verified his claims.

"I wouldn’t doubt that there are thousands of gang members in the military right now," Glass said from his home in Fayetteville, N.C. "This is all gangs – black, white, Latin." For FY2006, there were 1.36 million active duty personnel in the U.S. armed services— 512,400 in the Army, 352,700 in the Navy, 179,000 in the Marines and 317,400 in the Air Force. "If, as the Pentagon says, only one percent of these might be gangbangers," that comes to at least 13,600 gang members, though Glass personally feels the number could be as high as 15,000.

"Think about it," he said. "Fifteen thousand gang members released on the streets of America after Iraq is over, trained in arms and combat by the best military in the world." What hits the press is only the tip of the iceberg, he fears. "Among the extremists, you’re on a mission . . . these guys are secret agents in their own minds." The problem is one for the future, he said, "and it’s huge."

This isn't a problem affecting just the Nazis, gang-bangers, and other violent personalities worming their way into the military. It also affects the many more formerly normal, non-racist recruits who have been dragged into multiple tours of duty in Iraq, regardless of the profound psychological effects of such treatment. This includes many people whose evaluations have recommended they not be returned for duty. There's a reason to call Iraq the Timothy McVeigh Finishing School.

This will, I fear, become a significant component of the predictable surge in far-right activity that is almost certain to manifest itself in the USA over the next couple of years, especially as Democrats and liberals expand and entrench their hold on power. We're essentially re-creating the conditions that arose in Germany and Italy after World War I: scores of angry, disaffected and psychologically damaged war veterans, poised to organize into a political force aimed at "rebirthing" the nation and its heritage.

What's even more disturbing, though, is that the top brass at the military seem all too willing to create those conditions.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

O'Reilly and the pistol-packin' mamas

-- by Dave

We have long been aware that Fox's Bill O'Reilly has a marked propensity for credulousness when it comes to far-right conspiracy theories; he has a history of transmitting ideas from extremists and making them appear reasonable and factual when in reality they are simple lunacy spun from whole cloth.

Of course, New World Order theories have been getting fresh circulation in recent weeks from the likes of Glenn Beck and Ron Paul, but those hardly hold a candle to the completely whacked-out theory offered by O'Reilly late last week on his daily Fox broadcast, as the SPLC's Susy Buchanan and David Holthouse report:
A "national underground network" of pink pistol-packing lesbians is terrorizing America. "All across the country," they are raping young girls, attacking heterosexual males at random, and forcibly indoctrinating children as young as 10 into the homosexual lifestyle, according to a shocking June 21 segment on the popular Fox News Channel program, "The O'Reilly Factor."
Titled "Violent Lesbian Gangs a Growing Problem," the segment began with host Bill O'Reilly briefly referencing for his roughly 3 million viewers the case of Wayne Buckle, a DVD bootlegger who was attacked by seven lesbians in New York City last August. Deploying swift, broad strokes, O'Reilly painted a graphic picture of lesbian gangs running amok. "In Tennessee, authorities say a lesbian gang called GTO, Gays Taking Over, are involved in raping young girls," he reported. "And in Philadelphia, a lesbian gang called DTO, Dykes Taking Over, are allegedly terrorizing people as well."

After this introduction, O'Reilly went to a split-screen live interview with "Fox News crime analyst" Rod Wheeler.

"Tell me what's going on," O'Reilly said.

Wheeler, a Washington, D.C., Metropolitan Police Department officer-turned-paid Fox News commentator, launched right in: "Well, you know, there is this national underground network, if you will, Bill, of women that's lesbians and also some men groups that's actually recruiting kids as young as 10 years old in a lot of the schools in the communities all across the country," he reported. "And they actually carry a number of weapons. And they commit a number of crimes."

Wheeler asserted that "we've actually counted, just in the Washington D.C. area alone, that's Washington D.C., Maryland, and Virginia, well over 150 of these crews. … And they — like I said, they recruit these kids to be members of these gangs."

O'Reilly asked, "Now, when they recruit the kids, are they indoctrinating them into homosexuality?"

"Yes," Wheeler answered. "As a matter of fact, some of the kids have actually reported that they were forced into, you know, performing sex acts and doing sex acts with some of these people."

Flabbergasted by the sheer depravity of it all, O'Reilly nevertheless forged ahead. "I never thought of this," said the host of the "no-spin zone." "It makes sense that, if you had lawless gay people, they would do this kind of thing. You associate homosexuality more with a social movement, not a criminal movement. But you're saying this is all over the country, detective?"

"It's all over the country," Wheeler replied. "I mean, you go from New York to California to wherever you want to name, you can see these organizations." Next came the pink guns. "Now, the other thing, too, that our viewers are going to find very, very interesting, is the fact that they actually carry—some of these groups carry pink pistols," Wheeler said. "They call themselves the pink-pistol-packing group. And these are lesbians that actually carry pistols. That's 9-millimeter Glocks. They use these. They commit crimes, and they cause a lot of hurt to a lot of people."

So, what exactly was the basis of this report?

Turns out that Wheeler is not exactly the kind of source one would consider reliable:
Confronted by the Intelligence Report, Wheeler was unable, in several phone and E-mail exchanges over a two-day period, to specify a single law enforcement agency or officer, police report, media account or any other source he relied upon for his D.C. area lesbian gangs claim. But he insisted that his report was accurate and that any law enforcement officer who disagrees is "out of touch." "For some reason or other, these organizations don't lay it on the line because they don't know what is going on on the streets," said Wheeler. "This is a serious crisis and the so-called experts are missing it."

According to Wheeler's personal website, he is a member of Jericho City of Praise, a conservative Christian megachurch in Landover, Md., whose leadership publicly advocates against equal rights for gays and lesbians. The website details Wheeler's 500-plus appearances on MSNBC, Court TV and Fox News Channel shows including "The O'Reilly Factor," "On the Record With Greta Van Sustern," and "Hannity & Colmes."

...Wheeler told the Report that he spent seven years in professional law enforcement before going to work as a corporate security officer for McDonald's Corp., a job he has since left. These days, Wheeler is a "food defense specialist" for the American Institute of Baking. Just this spring, he publicly warned that the Big Mac is vulnerable to bioterrorist attacks at "250 points" during production.

So, what about the factual basis for the report?

Er ... what factual basis?
The only specific instance of actual violent lesbian gang activity that Wheeler cited on "The O'Reilly Factor" was a May 19 attack on a 15-year-old boy who was stabbed near a transit station in Prince George's County, Md. "And the police found out that it was a group of six women who identified themselves as being members of a lesbian gang that actually attacked this young man," Wheeler told O'Reilly.

According to a June 15 article in The Washington Post, however, two of the three individuals arrested in that assault were teenage males, though the article did note that, "Metro officials said the fight was between two gay and lesbian gangs that operate in Maryland."

An extensive Internet search seeking to verify O'Reilly's assertion in the introduction to Wheeler's interview that a lesbian gang called Dykes Taking Over is "terrorizing people" in Philadelphia turned up only one possible source. WCAU-TV, a local NBC affiliate in that city, reported in 2004 that a small group of 8th-grade girls at a West Philadelphia middle school were allegedly "bullying, groping and harassing" other girls in gym class with "gay remarks." The report made no mention of the 8th-graders using pink pistols or other weapons.

Similarly, O'Reilly's introductory mention of a Tennessee lesbian gang called Gays Taking Over that is "involved in raping young girls" appears to have been based solely on a highly dubious Feb. 28 television report from WPTY-TV, an ABC affiliate in Memphis, Tenn. Featuring dramatic "reenactments" of high school bathroom rape scenes shot in grainy black-and-white footage, the lengthy segment's vaguely salacious claims about local high school girls being raped and "sodomized" with "sex toys bought on the Internet" was based almost entirely on the lurid musings of a single Shelby County gang officer.

Titled "Violent Femmes," the sweeps-week segment was so thinly sourced and grotesquely sensationalized that it's difficult to believe that any professional journalist found it to be credible. And it wasn't. Under intense pressure from local gay and lesbian activists, the affiliate's station manager finally admitted that WPTY-TV's reporters had neither independently verified the gang officer's overheated claims nor obtained any documentary evidence such as arrest records or written police reports to substantiate their tale. As the station grudgingly conceded, "Our investigation did not turn up widespread violence in schools due to this."

O'Reilly so far is simply pretending that the report was accurate; he's refused to respond to SPLC inquiries.

Evidently, the "no spin zone" is increasingly resembling the Bizarro Universe.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Hate crimes and the law

A recent piece by Laura McPhee in Nuvo illustrates one of the real reasons to pass them: hate groups have proven propensity to exploit their absence, as we are seeing currently in Indiana, one of only four states not to have a bias-crime statute on the books.

The piece details a couple of hate crimes -- one involving a vicious assault on an African American man by some young white punks, the other an even more brutal murder on a gay man -- that occurred in the past year in different locales in Indiana. More importantly, it explores the ugly brew of right-wing disinformation that has kept the legislation from passing:
Forty-six states and the District of Columbia currently have what is known as Hate Crimes Legislation. While the laws vary in language and scope, most HCL defines hate-motivated acts based on race, religion and ethnicity bias as criminal. The majority of states also include hate-motivated acts based on sexual orientation (32) and gender (28).

“Hate crimes do more than threaten the safety and welfare of all citizens,” concluded the New York state Legislature, upon the passage of the state’s Hate Crime Legislation in 2000. “They inflict on victims incalculable physical and emotional damage and tear at the very fabric of free society.”

As recently as Feb. 22, 2007, Hate Crimes Legislation has been defeated in the Indiana General Assembly.

HB 1459 would have amended Indiana law to allow judges to impose stiffer sentences to those found guilty of committing crimes “knowingly or intentionally … because of the victim’s color, creed, disability, national origin, race, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity or sex,” just as it currently does to allow stiffer sentences to those who commit crimes against police officers, pregnant women, children and other designated victims.

The measure died on the House floor due to lack of support and overwhelming opposition.

While Indiana is one of only four states in America to not have Hate Crimes Legislation, in accordance with the federal Hate Crime Statistics Act of 1990 law enforcement agencies are required to report incidents to the FBI in which a committed crime was motivated by bias against race, religion, ethnicity and sexual orientation.

... For nearly 20 years, Indiana lawmakers have declined to pass Hate Crimes Legislation in Indiana due to pressure by the powerful Evangelical lobbyists and the fundamentalists they represent who oppose it.

"It is wrong for the government to mandate special rights for the homosexual lifestyle -- a lifestyle that many consider immoral," contends Evangelical lobbyist Eric Miller, founder of Advance America, whose opposition to Hate Crimes Legislation is that it "represents an attempt to give special protection to homosexuals and cross-dressers."

"Victory in Indiana!" proclaimed a February 2007 e-mail bulletin from Monica Boyer of The Indiana Voice for the Family, "Hate Crimes Legislation [is] Dead!" after HB 1459 died in the Indiana General Assembly.

"This was a clear case of people making their voices heard, and some legislators standing up for what was right," said Micah Clark, executive director of the American Family Association of Indiana.

Like Boyer and Miller, Clark contends that by defeating Hate Crimes Legislation in Indiana, "The good guys won on this issue, and a bad bill was averted."

Once again, for the record: There is nothing in either the Indiana bill -- or for that matter in the federal legislation that recently passed the House -- that would give "special rights" to homosexuals or cross-dressers. The laws as written clearly would protect all citizens equally from bias crimes, including anti-gay bias that targets non-gays. Moreover, the law isn't about "protecting" any group or another -- it's strictly about stiffening the sentences for people who are committing crimes, which are not a form of protected speech in any case.

It's also worth noting, perhaps, that even to the extent that the laws are intended to create some kind of protections for various victim groups from terroristic criminal acts, there is nothing "special" about the rights that might arise from these. It is, in fact, well within the scope of the law to punish such acts for the full scope of harm they cause. We are, after all, simply talking about protecting basic human decency and the rights of equal opportunity and association -- which are the rights that are under assault when hate crimes occur.

You'll also note that there has been a real lack of media attention to these two crimes:
While Evangelical groups and conservative lawmakers from Indiana continue to defend their opposition to Hate Crimes Legislation, local and national human rights groups and bloggers are beginning to take notice.

And while much of this focus questions why Indiana continues to not enact Hate Crimes Legislation, others are also beginning to question why so few Indiana media outlets are reporting the beating of Dexter Lewis or the murder of Aaron Hall.

On June 6, Bloomington Alternative Editor Steven Higgs published an editorial asking why The Indianapolis Star has yet to cover Hall's murder.

"The case should have been big news," Higgs contends. "Yet The Star left the Hall murder to the Jackson County media, the never-to-be-trusted Indianapolis and Louisville television stations and bloggers ..."

We untrustworthy bloggers have also been pointing out something that Leonard Pitts remarked upon regarding the supposed media bias involved in black-on-white crimes: namely, the reality is that actual bias crimes against minorities are grossly underreported, especially in contrast to gruesome black crimes in which no bias motive is detectable.

More to the point, there is a reason that skinheads and hate-group organizers of various stripes despise bias-crime laws: They send precisely the kind of message they don't want to hear -- namely, that both their communities and society at large acgtively condemn crimes undertaken against victims chosen simply for their identities.

As I've explained previously, a significant aspect of the mindset of bias-crimes perpetrators is the belief that not only does society silently condone their actions, but that it is a kind of heroic undertaking on behalf of their communities.

Silence, for the thugs who like to beat and murder people just because they belong to an "out" group, equals tacit approval.

That's what Indiana continues to tell its young haters, and the results are coming home to roost.

Likewise, in continuing to attack attempts at passing a federal bias-crime statute, national Republicans beholden to powerful elements of the religious right are doing the same strange kabuki dance, with the extremist right as an appreciative partner.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Truth & Reconciliation, Part II: James Loewen on Sundown Towns

-- by Sara

As the statistics here show, lynching was largely (though not entirely) a Southern phenomenon. But the North and West had other -- more subtle but no less devastating -- ways of dealing with their own African-American populations -- which is why sociologist James Loewen's two presentations on the phenomenon of sundown towns formed an interesting counterpoint to Sherrilyn Ifill's talk discussed below.

If you think the town you grew up in didn't have a race problem because either a) it wasn't in the South, or b) it was all white, Loewen -- the author of "Sundown Towns" and an active Unitarian himself -- has news for you.

"When I started researching this subject, I expected to find three types of sundown towns," Loewen recalled. "I expected to find small towns that were all-white because they'd expelled their black populations; suburbs that were all-white because they excluded blacks (and usually Asians and Jews, as well) from the very beginning; and then a third class of places that were all-white simply because African-Americans never got around to coming there.

"And what I discovered was that this third class is virtually non-existent. If you're an American who grew up in an all-white neighborhood, you need to realize that it was, almost certainly, all-white by intentional design."

There was a time when there were very few cities in America that didn't have a significant black population. "Between 1863 and 1890, they did live everywhere," Loewen asserts. Freed slaves spread far and wide throughout America, seeking to put down roots in places Jim Crow couldn't reach them. But reach them it did: within just a couple of generations, these towns began systematically harassing their black populations in a wide variety of ways designed to get them to move elsewhere.

"Between 1890 and 1940, there came what I call "the great retreat," said Loewen. Throughout the west and north, small towns and large cities -- some as large as St. Louis and Omaha -- expelled their African-American populations. In a nod to the conference venue, he mentioned that Oregon's history was particularly heinous: "I don't think there was a town in the state that wasn't a sundown town," Loewen noted. "The only place in the state you could live if you were black was in the center of downtown Portland."

The term "sundown town" refers to the signs that some of these towns put at their city limits, which typically said things like "Whites Only After Dark." (Some of them were far less polite.) However, most sundown towns didn't bother with overt signage: my own hometown of Bishop, CA never actually put up signs; but the police and certain other citizens made it their business to confront black visitors and advise them of the town's policies regarding their presence overnight. Innkeepers refused to rent them lodging as late at the 1980s. (And if you think sundowning was just out in the sticks, note that this was happening just four hours up the highway from LA.)

Loewen, who encourages anyone with details about specific sundown towns to register their stories at his website, ticks off names and places in a rapid-fire staccato. Pierce City, MO drove out its black population in 1901. Tulsa drove out two-thirds of its black community 1908. Norman, OK followed suit in 1912 -- Loewen recalls that a fraternity at the University of Oklahoma hire an all-black band for a party; found it had run afoul of the new sundown law; and had to cancel the dance and pay to put the band on the next train out of town so they wouldn't face police harassment. Viana, IL didn't go sundown until 1954 -- which led to a riot in which houses were destroyed. Anna, IL drove out its African-American population in 1909, and is still all white to this day.

There are regional wrinkles to the pattern. "I expected to find maybe 10 sundown towns in Illinois, and maybe 50 across the US," said Loewen. Instead, he's found over 500 in Illinois alone -- and estimates that there may well be over 10,000 across the US. The movement was apparently strongest in Illinios, Indiana, and Ohio; and weakest in the South. He's only found six sundown towns in Mississippi. "Sundown towns are rare in the south, particularly the 'traditional south,' he notes.

In the west, sundowning campaigns often included the Chinese as well. "The Chinese were almost 20% of Idaho in the 1880 census," Loewen recounts. "But in the mid-1880s, they were driven from Wyoming, Idaho, rural California, Seattle (though that lasted less than a week), and Tacoma (more permanently). Humboldt, California drove them out in the late 1880s; and the town didn't have another Chinese resident until the 1960s."

In small towns, it's typical for people to swear that sundowning happened after some kind of ordinance was passed -- though Loewen finds it remarkable that, even though he's looked, he's never found a single town that actually has such an ordinance recorded on the books. Nor has he found deliberations on a sundown law reflected in the minutes of any city or county meeting. Still, it's clear that city resources were often brought to bear to enforce this extra-legal intention. Loewen showed a slide of a "6 o'clock siren" mounted on a city water tower, which everybody in town knew had been installed to announce the curfew on blacks in town every evening. "That's city government in action," he noted. "You don't put up a thing like that on city property without somebody's approval." In other towns, the job of enforcing this unwritten law fell to the police force.

As the Portland example demonstrates, most of the African-Americans displaced by sundowning were left with nowhere to go but the inner cities. And so it happened that sundowning in small towns and suburbs across the country gave rise to the inner-city ghettos of the 20th century. And this, in turn, created an entirely new flavor of sundown town: the covenanted suburb to which white city residents fled in response.

"Most large cities had -- and many still have -- sundown neighborhoods," Loewen pointed out. "Many suburban developments, starting around 1905, were built with legal restrictions to ensure that only whites would ever live there. Often, city governments passed laws requiring that sundown deeds be included in any new subdivision they approved." By the 1950s, federal housing policy further reinforced these covenants by requiring developers to include them as a condition for federal funding.

Loewen recommended the 1947 film "Gentlemen's Agreement," which centers on the agreement by which the city of Darien, CT covenanted to kept out Jews and blacks. "And it was very effective," notes Loewen: the 1950 census found 200 African-Americans in Darien -- all of whom were live-in domestic help.

The interesting thing about all this, says Loewen, is that there are strong inverse correlations between sundown neighborhoods and the relative economic health of a region. "Detroit is an economic disaster zone. It's also among the most segregated cities in America. All five of the Grosse Pointe communities were founded as sundown suburbs, for example." This pattern, he says, recurs: ethnic vitality correlates with economic vitality virtually everywhere in the country, and cities that remain segregated do so at peril to their own well-being.

The practice of sundowning began to wind down around 1970, as fair housing laws were passed from the federal level on down, opening the nation's housing stock to all qualified buyers, regardless of race. However, Loewen says, it still lives on in Sunbelt cities catering to retirees from the Northeast with a sundown proposition; and towns (like Darien today) in which the police still pull African-Americans over for "driving while black."

Loewen, like Ifill, is hopeful that we've reached a point where we can begin to deal openly with this history, and begin to move past it. To that end, he offered a second talk -- a workshop filled with specific suggestions that individuals, groups, and communities can use to begin the process of truth and reconciliation where sundowning is concerned. Those recommendations will be the topic of the next post.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Glenn Beck and the black helicopters

-- by Dave

Has anyone noticed that Glenn Beck's continuing rise among the ranks of the pundit class seems to be in inverse proportion both to his seeming sanity and perspicacity, as well as the actual ratings he manages to obtain?

We already have seen him go completely around the bend in promoting militia-style New World Order conspiracy theories. But then, we already knew from his post-election demand for "real" conservatism that he was located somewhere out there on the extreme right anyway.

Now we have him peddling NWO crap over the public airwaves, as Michael Hood reports at Blatherwatch:
The horror story batting around the red states and right-wing radio is that Bush has secretly negotiated the creation of the North American Union, a mega-state created by erasing the borders between the U.S., Canada and Mexico.

This huge globalist conglomerate would terminate U.S. sovereignty; make us beholden to the socialists to the North, and the Third World mother-raping beggar/bandits to the South.

The Yankee dollar would be worthless, and we'll be forced to spend (if we could get any) the "Amero," modeled after the Euro and just as godless.

What's more, a 17-lane "Monster Highway," road to hell, is being built by the Master Planners from Mexico to Canada up through the middle of the U.S. (Actually, they're talking about a real highway in the planning stages: the Ports-to-Plains Trade Corridor, an I-5-like North/South highway stretching from Texas Gulf ports to Canada.

Feckless Beck told listeners, "Let's just face it: this is the plan, this is the real reason [Congress and Bush] want to cram this thing down our throats! What else could it be?"

Even a right-wing partisan like Michael Medved knows this is lunacy:
Medved writes: "...the entire horror story about “North American Union” is based upon the “Security and Prosperity Partnership,” an utterly innocuous, open, above-board, well-advertised and widely publicized initiative to promote inter-governmental cooperation to fight terrorism, the threat of Avian flu, improve and tighten border security, and promote mutual prosperity. The then Presidents of the three countries (Bush, Fox and Martin) met in 2005 to pledge to work together on such issues and to initiate open working groups to facilitate cooperation – BUT THERE WAS NO AGREEMENT OR TREATY OR COVENANT of any kind, secret or otherwise."

The real question is why producers and executives at places like CNN and at ABC's Good Morning America in giving a clear-cut extremist who promotes groundless and paranoid conspiracy theories a platform for expounding this kind of nonsense.

What's next, John Trochmann doing the weather forecast for the Today show?