10 December 2008: Perpetrators of hate crimes are empowered by passivity

Perpetrators of hate crimes are empowered by passivity

The news broke prior to Thanksgiving about swastikas and racial epithets etched on the doors of Brock Cureton’s property. Some Thanksgiving for Cureton, who has been our neighbor and fellow citizen for over 20 years, who loves to restore Studebakers, and who happens to be African American.

That callous act hopefully will be prosecuted as a hate or bias-motivated crime, which is essentially an act of domestic terrorism. Domestic terrorists, such as Timothy McVeigh, do what they do in order to intimidate a population or a group within the larger population.

In a letter to the Denver Post, Bruce DeBoskey, regional director for the Anti-Defamation League, writes that in Colorado, “bias-motivated crime law covers any crime committed with the intent to intimidate or harass another person because of that person’s actual or perceived race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, physical or mental disability, or sexual orientation.”

DeBoskey told me that the ADL is very concerned about this type of crime.

“It is a message crime to the immediate victim and to other members of the victim’s community to make them feel unsafe and unwelcome.”

But for perpetrators of hate crimes to be successful, both the victims and observers need to cower before them. Their empowerment comes about only through indifference or passivity on part of the larger community, which the perps interpret as approval for their actions.

Paul Johnson, Cureton’s friend and neighbor, has not only been outraged by the whole affair but has also been working to see that justice is carried out.

On the blog www.timberlinetalk.com, Johnson wonders, however, if law enforcement, both the sheriff and the FBI, is aggressively pursuing the case. He notes this is the second time in six years Cureton has been a victim of such an act.

“I think it is ridiculous that either the Clear Creek Sheriff or the FBI cannot contact all tenants and owners about investigating this crime,” he writes, “at least put it in their mind that they are involved.”

I spoke with Capt. Bruce Snelling of the Clear Creek Sheriff’s office who, while not able to comment on the specifics of the case, states his goal is to find the “bad guys and bring them to justice” and plans to attend the December 7th association meeting.

While it looks as if this particular crime is isolated and narrow in scope, it should be, nevertheless, of grave concern to the entire Clear Creek community.

Accordingly, I have spoken to a number of people who are very upset about it, not only because of what it does to Cureton but also what it does to the reputation of the community, but in last week’s edition there was nary an expression of outrage.

I asked DeBoskey whether this type of crime is lessening, and he said that since Barack Obama’s election, there has been a tremendous increase of this type of activity particularly on the Internet.

“It’s like they (white racists) are recharging their batteries, and we’re likely to see more in the months to come.”

Snelling agreed pointing out that the “chatter” that law enforcement has been getting indicates a rise in bias-motivated crimes.

“We’re not seeing it widespread across Clear Creek,” said Snelling, “but we are on the lookout for it and ask that folks let us know if they become aware of that sort of thing.”

Snelling also wanted to assure Cureton and his immediate neighbors as well as the larger Clear Creek community that “the Sheriff is extremely tough on this type of crime, whether race, sexual orientation, religion, or whatever. We don’t tolerate those who don’t tolerate others.”

DeBoskey also noted that hate crimes tend to increase when the economy declines. Some people experiencing financial hardship work out their anger and frustration on those who are in vulnerable social classes.

So with the economy in the tank and an African American about to take the oath of office of the presidency, the terrorist threat to America is rising not necessarily from without, but from within.

DeBoskey says the ADL “believes the vast majority of citizens is good and urges all good citizens to speak out, to make clear that actions such as this will not be tolerated.”

“And they need to say to those who do such things, ‘You are not welcome here! This is not home for you.’ And if more people did that, they soon would have no place to go.”

In his letter, DeBoskey writes, “Hate crimes must be condemned and should be prosecuted whenever possible, to make it clear to all Colorado residents that our state is no place for hate.”

I will add that Clear Creek is no place for hate, and ask every citizen to make his or her voice heard just like Pastor Martin Niemoeller who, after WW II, wrote, “First they came for the Communists, but I was not a Communist, so I did not speak out. Then they came for the Socialists and Trade Unionists, but I was neither, so I did not speak out. Then they came for the Jews, but I was not a Jew, so I did not speak out. And when they came for me, there was no one left to speak out for me.”

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