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How Miniscule Hate Speech Leads to Violent Crimes
A Swarthmore College student and his male friend were assaulted after midnight by a group of 4 males and 1 female.
Joseph Igbineweka, a promising student body president of California State University, was stabbed 4 times.
3 students at Guilford College were beaten with fists and brass knuckles by college football players; and as one victim reported, “It was the most horrific experience of my life.”
What do those 3 incidents have in common? They were all hate crime. The Swarthmore College student was assaulted, simply because he was gay. The student body president of California State University was stabbed, simply because he Nigerian. The 3 students at Guilford College? They were beaten simply because they were Palestinian.
The majority of hate crime, however, does not come from the violent criminals, but instead comes from the people . It’s the small hate bloggers and preachers who keep the racist and homophobes away from reality. They are the ones who hide between the boundaries of “free speech” and “hate speech.” People who don't use guns and knives to kill, but words and mouth. But unfortunately, the law doesn’t prosecute those who shoot bullets with their mouth. Well defined hate speech laws will be the first step in defining the boundaries between free speech and hate speech, and separating democracy from crime.
To stop oppression of minorities and prejudice, we need to change our approach. We don’t need more police brutality and tighter enforcement. What we do need, is laws defining the border of hate speech and free speech. Some forms of media are proponents of hate speech, speech that causes hate crimes. Cracking down on the few hate crimes won’t work, when “rapists” and “illegals” are almost synonymous with “immigrants” and “minorities” on TV and media. Or when the most powerful man on earth talks about immigrants and minorities as criminals and praises those who spread his prejudice. We are prosecuting the wrong people, the proxies through which hate criminals achieve their goals.
The pyramid of hate (Anti-Defamation League) suggests that the first step to any genocide. Murders and acts of violence are at the top, while hate speech is near the bottom. The solution to racism and sexism and homophobia is to eradicate the bottom of the pyramid of hate, which is hate speech. Everything else will fall down afterwards, from violent murders to school bullying. Some types of media are supporting all the murders, the suicides, and the assaults of minorities. Yet, the law only prosecutes those at the top of the pyramid; it only prosecutes the ones that have little impact on continued hate and oppression. No matter how much money we dump into police departments or how many houses we search, it will have little impact a few years later. What we need is new and stricter laws prosecuting those who spread hate, not more guns and police. If we don’t halt the increasingly prejudiced content on TV, the population will be exposed to an echo chamber of hate speech, inciting people to turn violent.
In numerous times in history, mass genocides of a particular race or group immediately followed sustained hate speech from the media or the government. For example, the Holocaust, a massacre of almost 6 million Jews, immediately followed the Nazi’s mass propaganda campaign and Hitler’s hate speeches, with phrases like “One cannot defend himself against the Jew,” and “the Jew… attacks with lightning speed from his position of safety and uses his abilities to crush any attempt at defense.” The first step for Hitler to start the Holocaust was to spread hate propaganda against Jews, which meant they could start the Holocaust without any resistance from their own citizens.
This has not only been limited to Nazi Germany, however, but also in many other genocides across the world. The Rwandan Genocide, a massacre of over 800,000 Tutsis lead by Hutu extremists, was primarily incited by the large radio station RTLMC, broadcasting messages like “You have missed some of the enemies. You must go back there and finish them off. The graves are not yet full.” The hate radio was popular amongst Hutu youth as it played contemporary music and featured talk shows, through which racist propaganda against Tutsis were spread. The radio had dumped vials of hatred into young Hutus’ minds, and only a spark would be needed for to turn the hatred to massacre, one that would later kill 800,000 Tutsis.
If sustained hate speech lead to genocide many times in history, why are we not doing anything to stop the beginning stages now? Why do we differentiate crimes that kill people with knives and crimes that kill people with words if they all do the same harm? The Swarthmore College student could have gotten his degree, had it not been for hate speech that convinced the assaulters to be homophobic. The Nigerian student body president and the 3 students at Guilford College could have went on and lead great lives, had it not been for criminals who hide behind curtains of free speech to do their crimes. While hate bloggers are a small figure compared to the prejudice widespread in the media, we need to abandon the notion that hate crime is simply free speech. Defining the boundary between a democratic activity and a criminal activity is the first step towards separating democracy from crime. But it is not enough.