Last month’s cross burning at the home of a black teenager in Arroyo Grande brought the subject of hate crimes to the forefront of our community. While hate crimes are certainly not new, this occurrence is an ugly reminder that intolerance and intimidation are still practiced by a few citizens on the Central Coast.
The FBI defines a hate crime as a “criminal offense against a person or property motivated in whole or in part by an offender’s bias against a race, religion, disability, ethnic origin or sexual orientation.”
Hate itself is not a crime. We all have people with whom we strongly disagree. But the act of intimidating or harming another person because of those beliefs is completely unacceptable.
Hate crimes have a broader impact on their victims than other crimes because they target key elements of the victims’ identity. According to the American Psychological Association, victims of violent hate crimes may suffer from more psychological distress, such as depression, stress, anxiety and anger, than survivors of other crimes. They are also at risk for developing certain mental disorders and posttraumatic stress disorder as a result of the attack.
Communities feel violated, too. Hate crimes send a message to members of a given group that they are not welcome and that they are unsafe in a particular neighborhood, school or environment.
Even when folks aren’t the target of the attack, they feel threatened. They tell themselves, “This time, the crime was directed toward someone else. Next time it might be aimed at me.”
Who’s most likely to commit a hate crime? It’s not someone from an organized hate group. The vast majority of perpetrators act alone. The data also suggests that they are very young. According to Alvin Poussaint, Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, two-thirds are younger than the age of 24.
Poussaint theorizes, “It’s a way of expressing their own insecurities, their own feelings of inadequacy. By making others victims and looking down on other groups for religious or ethnic reasons, they give themselves an ego boost.”
So all of us are being terrorized by young men with low self-esteem? Something’s terribly wrong with this equation. Yes, I feel sorry for these kids and hope they get their lives on track. Meanwhile, it’s up to the rest of us to band together and say: This kind of behavior doesn’t happen here. We can’t sift through everyone in our ZIP code and kick out those who don’t play nice. But we can crack down on acts of hatred and refuse to kowtow to bullying tactics.
Hate crimes can only be effective when the victims are isolated and afraid. Well, you’re NOT alone in this battle. We will back you up. We support your right to live in harmony and carry yourself with pride.