Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Ending Hate -- Ending the Cycle of Violence

It is unfortunate -- but we live in a world filled with violence.  There is no place completely immune from its touch.  Yesterday, a normally placid April 15th (Tax Day) was interrupted by news that two bombs had exploded near the finish line of the historic Boston Marathon.  The latest news is that three have died, the youngest being eight years old.  Nearly two hundred were injured, some critically.  We don't know who the perpetrators are.  Speculation is rampant.  It could be any number of groups involved.  A Saudi man was detained, but it appears that he wasn't involved -- just another victim.  

We won't know for some time who was involved, but remember it was Tax Day.  Later this week we will remember the anniversary of the Oklahoma City Bombing, which was a home grown, anti-government action.    Could there be a connection?  We don't know and we must be careful with our speculations.

So today, I went to a training sponsored by the Michigan Alliance Against Hate Crimes.  We learned about ways to create Community Response Systems, wherein a broad coalition of civic and community groups, including law enforcement, schools, governments, non-profits, faith groups, and more, can work together to address incidents in our communities, along with proactively working to prevent such incidents.  I learned, for instance, that the number of extremist groups -- including militia groups -- has sky-rocketed in the last few years.  I also learned that Michigan ranks number one is the presence of such groups.  

Hate thrives on fear.  And fear results, often, from isolation and ignorance.  When stereotypes and group think define our perceptions of others, we may, especially in times of crisis, lash out against those who are different -- especially minority communities.  

Yesterday's tragic event reminds us that, whoever the perpetrator was, people are turning to violence to send messages.  A hate crime is, ultimately, designed to send a message.  It is -- according to official definitions:

A criminal act of intimidation, harassment  physical force, or threat of physical force, directed against a victim, their advocate or property, motivated in whole or in part by bias against a protected group, based on the real or perceived race, color  ethnic background, national origin, religion, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability of the victim.  (Taken from A Guide for Creating and Maintaining Community-based Collaborations to Address Hate and Bias, MIAAHC)

The key to defining a hate crime is determining motive.  The goal is to end the cycle of hate, which too often ends in violence.  The way forward isn't easy. There is much education that needs to occur.  There are many stakeholders needed to achieve this goal -- one being faith communities.  We can be and often are part of the problem.  We can be, and in my mind, should be, part of the solution, so that there will be no more days like yesterday.

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