Hate crimes continue to occur, much too often, in communities across America and communities around the world. Many never make the evening news or the local newspaper, let alone gain national attention.
Lack of attention or mitigation of hate crimes, irrespective of their seriousness or degree, is both good and not-good. Good because the hate crime did not result in major injuries, loss of life or property; Not-good because we often become insensitive to the lesser crimes, which also cause harm.
Two recent hate crimes occurred in the same community, Bay City, Michigan. The most recent crime involved the severe beating of a black man by two white men as bystanders watched. The major perpetrator has been charged with “Ethnic Intimidation,” which is a two- year felony.
According to the Michigan law, a person is guilty of Ethnic Intimidation when he or she “maliciously, and with specific intent to intimidate or harass another person because of that person’s race, color, religion, gender or national origin.” It could involve physical contact, damage to and destruction or defacement of property, and threats by words or actions.
The perpetrator remains in jail, awaiting his sentence.
The second incident involves a man who assaulted two other men because he thought they were Muslims, when in fact they were Hindu. At the time, the assailant punched one man and struck the other’s car as he yelled jihad and Osama bin Laden. The victims were of Indian descent.
The perpetrator pleaded no contest to a two-year felony of Ethnic Intimidation. But the judge added something very meaningful to his sentence, He ordered the perpetrator to write two reports: one on the great cultural contributions of Islam; and the second one on the history of Hinduism. Punishment with education!
What a great idea. If people would bother to confront their racism, their religious intolerance by taking time to educate themselves about others who do not look like them, live like them, or worship like them, then maybe such ignorance will never escalate to hate crimes in any form or degree.
If education cannot replace perpetration and punishment, then it certainly can be part of the penalty. Education is likely to have the most lasting effect.
Education can be a great source of enlightenment and prevention when it comes to minimizing, if not stopping hate crimes.
The criminal justice system can heed the lesson from Bay City, Michigan, but so can communities across the globe.