January Hate Crimes Watch: Real Violence, Real Victims

February 9, 2012Noah Baron

Discussions of hate crimes often revolve around statistics and numbers, sometimes making it easy to lose sight of the human cost and the horrific nature of many of these attacks. Every month, thousands of hate crimes take place – in 2009, for example, there were an average of 11,125 violent hate crimes per month. The stories that follow, which account for only a few of the too many hate crimes that took place last month, are intended to put a face and a name to the victims of hate crimes.

  • In mid-January, a man was arrested in connection with the firebombing of two New Jersey synagogues. He is being charged with nine counts of attempted murder, bias intimidation, arson, and aggravated arson. Authorities believe the perpetrator was motivated by extreme anti-Semitic bias.
  • Last month, a man was arrested after a failed plot to detonate a bomb in the midst of a Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day Parade. Had it succeeded, the bomb would have killed hundreds. Kevin Harpham had created a homemade backpack bomb that included shrapnel coated in a chemical designed to prevent blood clotting and had placed the bomb so that it would explode across the line of the marchers. Luckily, however, city workers discovered the suspiciously placed backpack, and the parade was rerouted as a safety precaution. Harpham was sentenced to 32 years in prison for a hate crime, among other offenses.
  • Earlier last month, charges were filed against three white teenagers who are accused of forcibly holding Joshua Merritt, a 17-year-old African American high school student (pictured above). The three perpetrators allegedly forced a noose around Merritt’s neck and choked him as they called him racial epithets and threatened him with a knife. The oldest of the three, who is 18, is being charged with a felony hate crime and other charges. The other two, who are 16 and 17, are having their cases reviewed.
  • In early January, a 20-year-old San Francisco man was walking on a sidewalk when he was accosted by a group of men in a car who shouted homophobic slurs at him. The car then stopped, and three men got out. They proceeded to beat and kick the victim. When they were done, they took his cell phone. Police are still looking for the perpetrators.

What can I do? These events are horrifying. It is deeply upsetting that some people can so thoroughly lose sight of the Divine spark in others that they could bring themselves to commit these acts. Unfortunately, these are only some of the many hate crimes that take place each month. One of the ways that we can work toward a society in which hate crimes do not take place is by affirming the fundamental, and equal, dignity and worth of all people, including lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) Americans. The so-called “Defense of Marriage Act,” which prohibits the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages, sends the message to all Americans that LGBT people, and the relationships they have, are less-than. Urge your members of Congress to repeal this discriminatory law. When we take steps toward marriage equality -- when we affirm that all people are created b’tselem elohim (in the Divine image) – we likewise move toward a world in which hate crimes will eventually cease to exist, and all people are recognized for what they are: people. Image courtesy of The Chicago Sun-Times

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