Combating Hate: What is it going to take?

This continues our series of student reflections and analysis authored by our research team.

Combating Hate: What is it Going to Take?

Makenzie Mercer

Earlier this semester, the Prosecution Project team was tasked with “starting” hundreds of new cases in our database. The process for creating a “case starter” involves reading through news articles, indictments, and other documents related to cases that meet our inclusion criteria. From there, coders assign a case ID, and write a short narrative so that future coders can understand the basics of the case at first glance. As news articles we suspect will result in “case starters” are compiled, they are sorted into various categories: foreign/material support terrorism, left-wing, right-wing, etc. I chose to focus on the many cases of right-wing terrorism and hate crimes. As a Political Science and Social Justice Studies double major, I like to think I am rather informed about the horrors our country is currently facing—hate crimes are on the rise and very little is being done about it.

A Roll Call article cited an FBI report that outlined a 17% increase in hate crimes from 2016 to 2017, with a specific rise in anti-Black and anti-Jewish crimes. This troubling increase has been very apparent in my time with the Prosecution Project. While there are many horrific cases—like the Tree of Life Synagogue shooting, for example—that are widely covered by the media, I have seen so many more cases of hate and bigotry that have hardly been acknowledged by the media. Take the case of Michael Peter Ill—Michael was arrested and charged with criminal mischief after spray-painting swastikas and anti-Jewish slurs near University of Central Florida’s campus last Christmas. While his actions did not physically harm anyone, we must look beyond this when evaluating hate-driven crimes. We must think of the emotional harm that can be caused to marginalized communities and not allow these crimes to go unnoticed.

In another case, James Reidnauer and Brent Van Besien were arrested on hate crimes charges of aggravated battery with a firearm after shooting at two biracial children and shouting racial slurs. Grown men harassing and attempting to harm children solely based on the color of their skin? In 2019? I’m appalled that our country has seemingly taken so many steps backward in recent years. Luckily, however, Reidnauer and Van Besien were served hate crime charges. This specification often leads to greater punishment and sends the message that crimes of hate and intolerance are unacceptable.

According to the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), 45 states and the District of Columbia have hate crime laws. Some states are “fully inclusive” in their laws, meaning there are stricter punishments for crimes against race, sexual orientation, disability, gender, and gender identity. However, most states only protect a few of these marginalized groups. ADL strives to advocate for inclusive hate crime laws in all 50 states and DC. They must not be alone in this effort. We must hold perpetrators accountable and enforce protections for all marginalized communities. We must also look to our leadership, spread messages of love and acceptance, and vote politicians who promote hateful rhetoric out of office. Hate is undoubtedly imbedded in our country’s history, but we cannot simply ignore the recent uptick in hate crimes and accept it as the norm.

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