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Hate crimes mark and mar another year in U.S.

By Nisa Islam Muhammad -Staff Writer- | Last updated: Dec 28, 2017 - 8:10:36 AM

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For many, hate is as American as apple pie, baseball and flag waving on the Fourth of July and 2017 saw additional instances of bias, violence and public sentiment that reflects this reality.

White Nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, Aug 12. Photo: MGN Online

Marches and rallies by White Supremacists, nooses left in public, the brutal slaying of a Black college student and growing anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant sentiment punctuated what observers noted was another year of hate. Many of these incidents occurred at or near college campuses.

An estimated 1,000 White nationalists, Neo-Nazis and Ku Klux Klan types descended on college town Charlottesville, Va., to protest the expected removal of a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee. They participated in a Friday night Tiki torch vigil and shouted racist and anti-Semitic slogans and fought some counterprotestors.

The following day, many armed with AR-15s, other assault style rifles, pistols, and an assortment of weapons were met by counterprotests comprised of clergy, students, activists and a coalition of anti-fascists.

The deadly clashes left 34 people injured and Heather Heyer dead after a 20-year-old Neo-Nazi allegedly rammed his car, ISIS-style, into a crowd of counterprotestors.

The original response to the incident by President Donald Trump that there were “some very fine people on both sides,” did not help calm or sooth tensions. 

 “People feel much more emboldened and empowered by the Ku Klux Klan’s David Duke’s comments about supporting President Donald Trump.  He is giving voice to that element of the country who had been under the radar until his candidacy.  Their movements have been tracked and public perception was against them.  Now people are much more aware of them,” Dr. Wilmer Leon, Sirius XM political commentator, told The Final Call.

A report released in November noted that Blacks were more than half of all single, biased and race-based hate crime victims while Whites were nearly half of known offenders, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) 2016 Hate Crimes Report.

According to 2016 FBI statistics, hate was on the rise for the second year in a row with 7,227 offenses, 7,509 victims, and 5,727 known offenders—an increase of 4.6 percent from 2015 when 5,850 cases were reported.

The FBI divides hate-related incidents into bias groups with race and religion being the top biases.  Fifty-eight percent of hate crimes, 4, 229, were racially motivated with Blacks being the number one target and Whites the number one attacker.

Though the report cites statistics from 2016, the disturbing trend and pattern continued this year.

A White Louisiana man accused of shooting two Black men to death and of firing into the home of a Black family in three separate incidents in September has pleaded not guilty to all the charges against him.

The Advocate newspaper reported that Kenneth James Gleason, 23, entered the plea Dec. 20 at an arraignment before state District Judge Beau Higginbotham in Baton Rouge.

A grand jury on Nov. 30 indicted Mr. Gleason on one count each of second-degree murder and first-degree murder and two counts of attempted second-degree murder in the incidents that police have described as possibly racially motivated.

For many of the Black students, faculty and staff at the University of Maryland, the death of Bowie State University student, Army Lt. Richard Collins III, May 20 was a nightmare come true.  It was the worst ending to an academic year with one racist event after another that went unaddressed even though there were at least two protests on campus.

“I’m so angry about what he (Sean Urbanski, alleged killer) did and what has happened.  This has been a rough year.  It was a hate crime.  The university should own up to the fact that it was a hate crime.  There was a noose found at a fraternity house (Phi Kappa Tau chapter house),” Dr. Ronald Zeigler, of the Nyumburu Cultural Center told The Final Call.

During the year flyers were posted around campus with White nationalist pictures on them and White supremacy rhetoric such as “Whites were superior,” and America is a “White nation” written on them, he said. 

 “What happened that night was just a buildup of what takes place on this campus,” said Tolu Obalade, a University of Maryland senior economics major. He was speaking about the slaying of Mr. Collins.

“This is the climax with the loss of his life.  A lot of us have been reporting these events but with no response.  People are frustrated, demanding the administration handle things differently,” he said.

Mr. Urbanski, 22, also a student at the school was charged with a hate crime Oct. 17 on top of being previously charged with murder of Mr. Collins.

On a college campus in the Midwest an arrest was made after an incident in December. According to the Associated Press, authorities said an arrest was made after racist graffiti was found scrawled on several residence hall doors at Buena Vista University in northwestern Iowa.

The Des Moines Register reported that a racial slur was written on the door of Black students, “illegal” was written on the door of a Latino student and “KKK” and a swastika were left on the door of White students. A suspect was arrested and charged with two counts of criminal mischief as a hate crime.

The Boston Globe reports that five messages with racial slurs targeting Black students have been found at Framingham State University since October.

A North Carolina retirement community recently apologized for distributing a calendar featuring a racially tinged caricature of a slave. WWAY-TV in Wilmington reports the Bradley Creek Health Center at Carolina Bay circulated a community calendar Dec. 1 with a 1920s Christmas greeting card featuring the image of a Black woman portrayed as a “mammy,’’ a slave who took care of White children.

“The myth of Black inferiority was debunked by President Barack Obama.  This affected the psychological dissonance White people have about Black people.  They think we don’t take care of our children, Barack had his children in the White House.  They think we are dumb, he excelled at Columbia and Harvard.  It goes on and on.  He went against everything they think about Black people,” Dr. Kevin Washington, former president of the National Association of Black Psychologists told The Final Call.

“President Obama was the antithesis of Black life as they know it which is why they are doing everything to eradicate what he did.  They see us as a lesser people.  He was so stark a contrast from what they have been socialized to believe that they have to have a strong response and now they feel comfortable coming out to show how they really feel.”

In 2016, religion was the second greatest hate bias with 1,538 incidences, 54 percent of victims were Jewish and 25 percent were Muslims, the FBI report noted in its report. 

“We have all witnessed the anger and prejudice that characterized last year’s election season and that is growing nationwide in the current political environment,” said CAIR (Council on American Islamic Relations) National Department to Monitor and Combat Islamophobia Director Corey Saylor.

CAIR’s own preliminary data, derived from different sources than the FBI, reveals that so far anti-Muslim hate incidents are up nine percent in the first three quarters of 2017 over the previous year.

A Fairfax County, Va. grand jury returned an eight-count indictment, Oct. 16, against Darwin Martinez Torres, 22, for capital murder, rape and other charges in connection with the death of Nabra Hassanen, 17 of Reston, Va. According to police she was walking with friends on their way to a pre-dawn meal during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.  The group encountered Mr. Torres who was in a vehicle when some sort of dispute occurred. The incident escalated and Mr. Torres, ran his car on the sidewalk causing the group of young people to scatter.

Mr. Torres caught up with several of them, hit Nabra with the baseball bat before kidnapping her and driving her to Loudoun County, where he allegedly assaulted, then killed her. He dumped her body in a pond.  However, authorities have stated it was road rage and not a hate crime.

(The Associated Press and Final Call staff contributed to this report.)