By Brenda Robinson
Life’s tough, isn’t it? Professionals, theologians, lay people and just plain folk have tried for centuries to make sense of senseless crimes whereby innocent people are murdered, for no understandable reasons. Among those puzzling murders are those labeled “hate crimes.” And, when a gunman opened fire at a Jewish Center and an assisted-living facility, killing three people, law officials are calling the shootings a “hate crime.” Both buildings were identified as establishments frequented by Jewish people. The three people killed were Christians.
Frazier Glenn Cross is the alleged shooter. Two weeks ago, this 73-year-old Missouri man is suspected of shooting a man and his grandson and a woman. People who knew Cross said he was known for his anti-semitic verbiage. Organizations who track “hate crimes” said Cross was identified as a long-time white supremacist.
For the sake of clarity, federal hate crime statutes criminalize offenses involving “actual or perceived” race, color, religion, national origin, or gender identity or disability of any person.
There is some controversy, however, as to whether this tragedy is a hate crime. If CNN Legal Analyst Sunny Hustin is correct, there is no controversy. Hustin said to qualify as a hate crime, all that matters is that the crime was motivated in whole or in part by the offender’s bias. Therefore, the fact that the victims were Christians and not Jewish will not invalidate the “hate crime” charge.
America is overcome with violence; domestic, gang, family, school violence, you name it, we’ve got it. Just last week, 36 people, in Chicago, were shot within a 36 hour period. That’s one person, per hour! Experts generally conclude poverty, disenfranchisement, bullying and emotional and mental illness are strong contributors to the aforementioned types of violence. However, hate crime violence is a “different animal” indicated by the relatively new federal crime statutes given to “hate crimes.” A factor unique to these kinds of crimes is the perpetrators expressed strong dislike a particular ethnic group, telling whoever will listen of their hatred. This type of conversation can lead to a pre-identity of a potential killer and perhaps an avoidance of tragedies.
The Southern Poverty Law Center said perpetrators of hate crimes can be rural or urban, but a general common denominator is these “haters” have lost all hope in goals or other aspects of their lives. With this group, name calling is common, they believe unfairness is never addressed, they accept rude or rough behavior and discipline is inconsistent.
Matthew Shephard, a then 21-year-old University of Iowa student was beaten to death because he was gay. His death led to the federal hate crime legislation which became law in 2009. The convicted perpetrator’s girlfriend testified that he boldly expressed his hate for gay people.
Benjamin Nathaniel Smith went on a shooting spree in Chicago and wounded seven people and killed an Orthodox Jew and a black man. Smith’s acquaintances said Smith frequented groups that taught and condoned racist and hate activity.
The most recent alleged “hater” was a former Ku Klux Klansman who expounded hate toward Jewish people to anyone who would listen.
Although there is great difficulty in precisely predicting who is likely to commit hate crimes, there are some loosely identifiable profiles. Thus, all of us have the responsibility to discourage formation of hate groups, and be suspicious of those who make name calling appear normal, continuously express governmental unfairness toward majority ethnicity, and accept rude and rough behavior. Our charge is to advise authorities of perceived expected danger. We are our brother’s keeper.