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Flames of Hatred
Just around the holiday season, in December, 1994, a flyer was tacked to the door of the Macedonia Baptist Church in Bloomville, South Carolina.1 The message on the door of this African-American church was at odds with the Christmas spirit of peace and good will: It was an announcement of a Ku Klux Klan rally.
Six months later, after nightfall on June 20, 1995, the Macedonia Baptist Church was burned to the ground. Earlier that same morning, another African-American Church, the Mount Zion AME Church in nearby Greelyville, S.C., had also burned to the ground.
Local police arrested two young white men, Christopher Cox, 22, and Timothy Adron Welch, 23, in connection with the fires. The county sheriff, Hoyt Collins, said Welch was carrying a membership card for the Christian Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, one of the most active white supremacist groups in the state, when he was arrested.
Indicted for arson under state law, Cox and Welch have pleaded guilty and are awaiting sentencing. Meanwhile, two former Klansmen who federal authorities say masterminded the burning of the predominately black church in Bloomville were indicted recently on civil rights violations. The indictment also charges the two men with burning a Hispanic migrant camp in Manning, S.C. And the FBI is investigating the possibility that the fires at these two churches in Clarendon County, S.C., are linked to fires at other African- American houses of worship throughout the country.
From January 1, 1995, through June 27, 1996, there were 73 suspicious fires or acts of desecration at African-American churches.2 For African-Americans and all Americans of good will, this wave of church burnings has prompted outrage and alarm. And it is awakening bitter memories of racist violence during the civil rights struggle – particularly the 1963 bombing of the Sixth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, that killed four young girls.
Appalling as it is, however, the searing image of burning churches stands for an even larger problem: the persistence of violent crimes against virtually every racial, ethnic, religious, and sexual minority, as well as against women. The reaction of some to recent controversies over immigration, welfare, and the languages spoken in public places – issues that go to the heart of Americas identity as a caring, diverse and inclusive society – has increased the incidence of hate crimes against Hispanics, Asian- Pacific Americans, and others who are stereotyped, often inaccurately, as newcomers to this country. And the persistence of religious, ethnic, and sexual intolerance creates and contributes to a climate where hate crimes are perpetrated against Jews, Arab Americans, gays and lesbians, women and members of other groups at risk of attack.
From killings and beatings to acts of arson and vandalism, these hate crimes injure or even kill thousands of people, terrify countless others, divide Americans against each other, and distort our entire society.
To be sure, hate crimes are symptoms of a host of social ills. For all the progress our nation has made in civil and human rights, bigotry in all its forms dies hard. And discrimination is a continuing reality in many areas of American life, including the workplace.
Among incidents that have attracted national attention:
The bipartisan, blue-ribbon Federal Glass Ceiling Commission found that”Minorities and women are still consistently underrepresented and under utilized at the highest levels of corporate America.3 As the commission reported, 97 percent of the senior managers of Fortune 100 Industrial and Fortune 500 companies are white, and 95 to 97 percent are male.
According to the commission’s findings, Americans who are not male, white, and Anglo find their pay and prospects held down. In the Fortune 2000 industrial and service companies, only 5 percent of senior managers are women, and most of them are white. In another example of apparent discrimination, African-American men with professional degrees earn 21 percent less than whites with similar jobs and credentials. And, although Hispanics comprise eight percent of our country’s workforce, only 0.4 percent of managers are Hispanic.
The barriers against women and minorities often reflect the crudest and cruelest discrimination, even in major corporations.
For instance, in a plan that awaits approval by the courts and the federal Equal Employment Opportunities Commission, Texaco has agreed to pay $115 million to some 1,400 current and former black employees, $26.1 million in pay raises over five years for black workers, and $35 million for diversity- training programs.4 This action comes in belated response to a class-action lawsuit in which the 1,400 current and former employees charged pervasive racial discrimination at Texaco. After years when Texaco dragged its feet in response to black employees’ grievances, it was forced to respond when a downsized executive released a tape of top executives at the company’s headquarters discussing racial issues. Among other remarks:
An executive joked that”black jelly beans were stuck to the bottom of the bag.” ["Jelly beans" apparently was a phrase used by a diversity consultant.]
An executive vowed to “purge the s-t out of” papers involved in the discrimination case.
And an executive expressed discomfort with African- American and Jewish holidays: “Im still struggling with Hanukkah, and now we have Kwanzaa … Poor Saint Nicholas, they have s-tted all over his beard.”
In that discussion, executives also made fun of Kwanza9 symbols and of the African-American anthem, “Lift Every Voice and Sing.”
Sexual harassment represents not only abuse but also discrimination, since it discourages women from working in traditionally male jobs, distracts them from doing their best work, and deters them from seeking promotions. Alarmingly, recent revelations suggest that sexual harassment may be reaching epidemic proportions in the military. At the U.S. Army’s Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland, 19 women trainees have filed complaints of rape or sexual assault against almost 20 noncommissioned officers. One drill sergeant has been charged with rape, forcible sodomy, assault and making threats.
The sex scandal at Aberdeen has focused attention upon sexual harassment throughout the military. In an Army survey in 1995, 4 percent of all female soldiers said they had suffered from an attempted rape or sexual assault within the previous year – nearly 10 times the incidence of rape and sexual assault outside the military. And a telephone hotline for women throughout the armed services received some 4,000 calls in its first week. Five hundred were evaluated as sufficiently serious to require further investigation.
And, even in an agency often called upon to investigate hate crimes – the Federal Bureau of Investigation – there have been reports of discrimination and abusive treatment of minorities.
In June, 1988, the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas found that 1) Hispanic agents suffer disparate treatment in the conditions of their employment; and 2) these conditions affect their promotional opportunities in an adverse manner. Among the incidents cited in the decision was an Hispanic woman in training who was told she “looked too ethnic.”5
In a case brought before the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s Denver Office in 1986, an African-American agent was found to have been the victim of racial harassment. Among other incidents:6
The agent had a photograph of his two children on his desk. It was defaced with the face of an ape placed over his son’s face.
A toy scuba diver doll with its face, hands, and feet blackened by a marking pen was left in a container of water on the agent’s desk.
Pictures of an African in native dress, the bruised face of a black man, and a black man and a white woman were all placed in his mail slot at the office.
Invitations to office functions with the words “don’t come” written over them were also placed in his mail slot.
Bogus phone messages were left for him.
And his dictation was erased when he was away.
The prejudice and raw hatred revealed in these incidents is only one element of a combustible mixture of social problems that produces hate crimes.
Although some violent crimes are decreasing, hate crimes and arsons are increasing. Extremist movements are gaining in numbers and prominence, and their targets range from minority groups to the government itself. Public debate over social policy issues – from affirmative action to immigration to welfare – unfortunately is used by public officials to divide us from one another. Social problems of all kinds are exacerbated by the economic anxieties prompted by corporate downsizing, stagnant wages, and vanishing health coverage and pension benefits. In such an environment, hate crimes persist as expressions of hatred, alienation, and an effort to intimidate and demean those perceived as a threat to one’s own status.
It is often the case that symptoms themselves must be treated before illnesses can be cured. Hate crimes are a national emergency requiring national action.
Our nation’s leaders took an initial step in recognizing the urgency of the problem with the passage in 1990 of the Hate Crime Statistics Act (HCSA) and its reauthorization in 1996. It requires the Department of Justice to compile data on crimes that”manifest prejudice based on race, religion, sexual orientation, or ethnicity and to publish an annual summary of the findings. The law helps local, state, and national law enforcement authorities coordinate their efforts against hate crimes. And its very existence makes a powerful statement that the United States of America celebrates the diversity of its people – and will not tolerate violent acts of intolerance.
Six years after the initial enactment of this law, it is even more urgent for Americans to work together against the epidemic of ultra-violent behavior motivated by bigotry. This report is the first major comprehensive assessment of the hate crime problem in the United States. It is an effort of a task force of concerned national groups working together under the auspices of the Leadership Conference Education Fund, a non-profit organization that conducts research and education on civil rights, and the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, a coalition of 180 national organizations representing persons of color, women, persons with disabilities, older Americans, gays and lesbians, labor organizations, and major religious groups, committed to the enactment and enforcement of civil rights laws.
This report is an effort at public education and advocacy. We believe that hate crimes are a more serious problem than is generally recognized. And we maintain that this problem requires a unified and determined response by national and state leaders in government and business, by law enforcement agencies at every level, by civic, religious, and educational organizations of all kinds, and by ordinary citizens in their communities, on their jobs, in their houses of worship, and in their schools.
Once and for all, now and forever, it is time to extinguish the flames of hatred in America.
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