In East Texas, an African-American father of two is chained to a pickup truck by two white men and dragged to his death, so violently that his head is severed from his body. In Wyoming, two men lash a gay college student to a fence post, beat him and leave him to die. And in Kenosha, Wisconsin, a 14-year-old white youth suffers permanent brain damage after being beaten and kicked by a group of African American young men who had just seen the film, "Mississippi Burning."
Hate crimes like these, carried out against their victims because of their skin color, sexual orientation or religious beliefs, shock and horrify us. Freak occurrences, we think, shaking our heads, carried out by monsters.
The fact remains: hate crimes are all too common. In 1998, there were 7,755 hate crimes reported - nearly one committed every hour of every day. And that figure is almost certainly too low, since many hate crimes go unreported.
More than 500 extremist hate groups operate in the United States, reports Morris Dees, founder of the Southern Poverty Law Center in Montgomery, Alabama. The SPLC tracks the movements of radical militia groups, neo-Nazi skinheads and the Ku Klux Klan.
Although extremist groups attract immense public attention, fewer than five percent of the hate crimes in the U.S. are carried out by their members. And while extreme or fatal hate crimes have become the subject of media focus, most hate crimes don't end in death or permanent disability. Most don't make national headlines.
Instead, a steady stream of harassment and threats of physical violence cultivates a climate of hatred and enslaves its victims in a world of fear and bigotry. The text of U.S. Senate Bill 622, which seeks to expand the definition of hate crimes to include sexual orientation, gender and disability, proposes that "violence motivated by hate that is a relic of slavery can constitute badges and incidents of slavery."
Since the federal government began tracking anti-gay crime in 1992, studies have shown increases in the frequency and brutality of incidents. Despite the fact that anti-gay hate crimes have become more frequent and vicious, federal hate crime statutes fail to include crimes motivated by bias against sexual orientation.
Anti-gay hate crimes are indeed on the rise. A survey of 500 San Francisco Bay showed that one of out of every ten teenagers admitted to being physical violent or making threats against people they believed to be homosexual. Nearly one in four reported anti-gay name-calling. Characterizing the survey subjects as otherwise non-criminal young adults, the survey concluded, "a certain degree of anti-gay name-calling and social ostracism is the cultural norm among young Americans."
Don't let hate and prejudice of any kind be acceptable to you. You can take a stand against the rising tide of hatred in the U.S. The following suggestions are adapted from a list offered by the Southern Poverty Law Center:
It's up to us to make sure that our world is a tolerant world. Make a Difference!
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