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Forum for Equality hosts hate crime forum

30th September 2013   ·   0 Comments

By Fritz Esker
Contributing Writer

Recently, Forum for Equality hosted a talk on hate crimes at the New Orleans Jewish Community Center.

The impetus for the event was a spate of recent anti-homosexual attacks in New Orleans. A group of teens fired paintballs at victims while yelling homophobic slurs in the French Quarter. John Hill had his Warehouse District home vandalized. Adikus Sulpici and his partner, David Chase, suffered a near-fatal ambush in the French Quarter. Chase was knocked unconscious with a brick. Sulpici was also briefly knocked unconscious. He awoke to being punched and kicked, but he managed to fend off the attackers, who yelled that all homosexuals need to die.

“This (attack) was meant to not just beat us up, but to kill us,” Sulpici said.

David Barkey, legal counsel for the Anti-Defamation League, gave forum attendees a breakdown of state and federal hate crime laws. He said that, contrary to a common misconception that these laws only protect minorities, all races and religions are protected. While most hate crimes are committed against minority groups, 19 percent of reported race-based hate crimes are committed against Caucasians. Laws also protect victims of a “perceived bias.” This means if someone attacks a Sikh while yelling epithets about Muslims, the offender’s mistake does not exonerate him from hate crimes prosecution. (Editor’s note: It was stated in the print edition that 19 percent of reported hate crimes are committed against Caucasians. This article has been amended to reflect that it’s actually 19 percent of reported race-based hate crimes are committed against Caucasians)

While there is no foolproof solution to hate crimes, education and community awareness is a must and can deter certain types of potential offenders. Children can learn biases as early as preschool, and it’s important to send prominent, positive messages about acceptance into the community to prevent the next generation from being scarred by hate.

“Hate is learned and it can be unlearned,” Barkey said.

Religious leaders from all faiths, political leaders, the media, and ordinary citizens need to publicly announce that hate crimes are unacceptable. Too many citizens fail to speak out due to fear or the assumption that fighting hate crimes is someone else’s responsibility. But all speakers emphasized that the issue is one the community needs to face directly as a group.

“A hate crime isn’t just a crime against an individual. It’s a crime against the entire community,” Hill said. “No one should feel fear leaving their homes, walking down the street, or going to work worried about being attacked or fired simply for who they are.”

An important theme at the event was that many hate crimes go unreported. Barkey cited FBI statistics that listed 6,222 reported hate crimes in the United States in 2011. Only seven of these occurred in Louisiana with zero in New Orleans. Kentucky, Oregon, and South Carolina are three states with comparable populations to Louisiana and all three states reported between 150-200 hate crimes in 2011.

Estimates from the Department of Justice suggest that these numbers are far from the reality. A survey conducted from 2003-2009 estimated that 195,000 hate crimes occurred annually in the United States.

Hate crimes are unreported for a number of reasons. Victims fear that law enforcement will be indifferent or hostile, they don’t want to be put under media scrutiny, and some victims go into denial that they could be attacked for simply being who they are. Some victims feel a level of shame similar to what a rape victim feels. Representatives of the NOPD and the FBI were at the forum and emphasized the importance of coming forward.

“If you don’t report it, we don’t know,” said Special Agent Drew Watts of the FBI’s civil rights division. “If you’re a victim or know someone who’s a victim, don’t give up.”

This article originally published in the September 30, 2013 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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