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Within my high school, I often hear students make awful remarks about fellow peers. Sometimes they are simply catty- gossip or slander, but other times they are downright disrespectful and wrong. Students are called weird, gay, retarded, stupid and stupid for following their own mind and doing their own thing. If you don’t fit into the mold, then you are constantly fighting for respect. The mold is determined by the masses and pop culture. What people see on TV and in magazines can be instantly what is cool. Hate crimes happen because of this. Following the mold and the masses is a way of thinking that breeds intolerance. Tolerance of every individual’s identity is necessary because everyone needs respect or acceptance.
Hearing such remarks be made everyday is heartbreaking and infuriating. What most teenagers want is to be understood or at least accepted. The truth of the matter is, bullies and oppressors are most likely acting out angrily because they fear that perhaps, if they don’t follow the social norms of high school life, they will be the ones bullied. I myself have felt as if I should keep my mouth shut and act like everyone else because if I didn’t, I would be at risk of ridicule or alienation. Also, the fear of being inferior or unwanted causes much lashing out. Bullies too are usually oppressed themselves, in some way or another. This may not be the case for all kids but it’s a general truth for many. These factors are what bring teenagers to bully and get involved in hate crimes.
Although I have never been the victim of a hate crime, I do know that they have happened around me. Last spring, a group was discovered at our school. They were the NHRA (N***er Hanging Redneck Association). These boys verbally abused a few black kids and then threatened them. Vandalism was later discovered as well. These boys were students at my High School. Although I wasn’t directly affected by these acts, they still brought up many feelings. I was shocked that this happened in my own community, let alone my own school. I had always thought that we were in a progressive town and that hate crimes such as this only happened in other places. To know that students - if only a few - were so angry, aggressive and malicious made me feel unprotected. How was I to know that I wasn’t going to be targeted next? What if one of my friends was a new victim? It was scary and definitely opened my eyes more. I saw that hate crimes truly do happen everywhere and that with a little education and support, the boys involved in the NHRA could have released their anger and misunderstandings in a more constructive way.
One reason why hate crimes are so hurtful is that they can often be linked to people you may already know. In a recent survey about the relationship of Victims to Offenders in 2007, done by the NCAVP (National Coalition of Anti- Violence Programs), it has been found that, 10% are landlords or neighbors, 9% are employers, 8% are law enforcement, 5% are service providers, 4% are acquaintances or friends, 3% of the offenders are family members, 2% are partners, 1% roommates, 1% ex-partners and . What all of that means is that 43% of all hate crimes are done by people you know. In another survey done by the NCAVP in 2007, the total number of victims reporting against anti- LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer) violence to NCAVP was 2, 430. This is a 24% increase compared to 200. All of these acts are hate crimes and they are becoming more and more frequent with time. Hate crimes are not limited to sexual orientation, though. People’s ethnicity, disability, religion or race can come into play too.
The fact of the matter is bullying and hate crimes have serious long-term effects. Those who have been victims, according to Dr. Gregory Herek, Professor of Psychology at UC Davis, show signs of psychological distress. Such distress includes depression, stress and anger. Moreover, hate crime trauma lasts longer than other random crime trauma. The reason seems to be because the victims feel vulnerable, powerless and at risk for personal danger. Dr. Herek also suggests that these feelings are often linked to a person’s identity.
These crimes can be turned around for the better, though. A good example of this was when Erin Davies, a lesbian from Albany, New York, went out to her car and saw that someone had written “fag” and “u r gay” on the hood and driver side of her car because she had a rainbow sticker on the back. Instead of getting angry or washing the words off, Erin decided to make a documentary about her tour of the US and Canada, for 58 days, with the words left on her car.
Erin had a mission: to raise awareness about hate crimes and homophobia in our society, to give a voice for those who are silent, to inspire others to take a stand against bullies and to be an example of how to overcome obstacles in bringing a creative project to life. Erin gained a huge following with supporters all over the country. She was awarded at many gay pride parades and has gained national attention. If more people acted like this, these hate crimes would not only be less of a problem, but probably less existant too. There is extreme power in numbers and knowledge.
A huge lure to the offenders is the vulnerability of their possible victims. If someone is a minority, in any sense of the word, it is easy to target and hurt them. They don’t necessarily have many other people to back them up and that makes the weak truly powerless. Take the Jena Six for example. Six black boys, in a primarily white town, were accused of first and second-degree murder because they defended themselves against attackers. These boys had been previously attacked and threatened by having nooses hanged at the school for them. The nooses were on a tree where the boys had previously hung out. Many students were upset with them for taking their spot under the tree so the nooses were put up, one for each boy. A few of the boys have already been put in jail, while the rest still await trial, because of their disadvantages. The students who put up the nooses faced no charges. Their case was not allowed to have protesters or reporters near the courthouse because it was thought it would influence the jury. Bail was set at astronomical heights as well. This meant that the families, all who are hardworking, middle class, couldn’t make the bail. The boys were forced to stay in prison, which meant staying away from school and their loved ones. These boys were truly given no chance, leaving them completely vulnerable.
There are two ways to fight against hate crimes. The first is through education. Tell others what you have read here. Make them see the statistics and listen to the stories. The more people know, the more they can tell others. The more perspective someone has, the better the chances are that they will consider new opinions. Word of mouth is an extremely powerful thing. The other thing to do is to stand together. Hate crimes often happen because a person is ganged up on. When people are attacked, 49% of the attacks have multiple offenders. The victim is alone and defenseless.
A prime example of such attacks is the Matthew Shepard trial. Matthew Shepard met two men, Russell Henderson and Aaron McKinney, at a bar. They offered him a ride home and once in the car Henderson and McKinney robbed, pistol-whipped and tortured Shepard. They then tied him to a fence in a remote, rural area and left him to die. They found his address and robbed his home as well. Shepard was found the next morning still alive but in a coma. He suffered from brain stem damage and had severe lacerations on his neck, face and head. He ended up dying because there was nothing the doctors could do for him. It was found that the two men attacked Shepard because he was gay. Both McKinney and Henderson received two consecutive life sentences.
If more people worked together to stand up against the crimes, victims might not need be as afraid. That is not to say you should ever resort to physical violence. When I say stand up and fight, I simply mean you need to know your stance and respect others. Your feelings are solely your own and no one can make you change them. It’s just not okay to lash out on other people because of those beliefs. Unless you know the other side of the argument, and at least acknowledge why people might feel that way, no one will listen to yours.
Hate crimes do not need to happen. Educate yourself and others as much as you can. The more you know, the better the chances are that you will be open-minded or an ally. Accept that you may not agree with everyone else out there but you have no right to hurt him or her. Not everyone agrees on all things, which is something all people need to accept. The best thing we can do is to try to understand one another.
"Fagbug." Fagbug. 21 May 2009
"ANTI-LESBIAN, GAY, BISEXUAL AND TRANSGENDER." ANTI-LESBIAN,GAY,BISEXUAL AND TRANSGENDER. 2008. 16 May 2009
Herek, Ph.D, Gregory M. Hate Crimes Have More Negative Impact On Lesbians and Gay Men Than Other Crimes. 16 May 2009. 2007-2009
Matthew Shepard Foundation: Our Story Main Page. 1998. 21 May 2009