Reports of increased hate crimes nationwide – including incidents on college campuses after Barack Obama’s victory – are prompting calls for universities to step up hate crime reporting and for more federal action on the issue.
“Even as we celebrate the demonstration of diversity in this country by electing the first African American president, the vestiges of a tragic period in our history continues to rear its hideous head,” said Hilary Shelton, director of the NAACP Washington bureau, at a conference Monday focusing attention on hate crimes nationwide.
Within higher education, four North Carolina State University students scribbled anti-Obama comments in a tunnel reserved for free speech expression. One comment said, “Let’s shoot that (N-word) in the head.” A University of Alabama professor said an Obama poster on her office door was replaced by a poster defaced with a death threat and a racial slur.
Hate speech on school buses and the beating of a New York teenager on election night by four white men shouting ‘Obama’ are among other recent youth-focused hate incidents.
“Schools and colleges are the third most frequent location for hate crimes,” said Michael Lieberman, Washington counsel for the Anti-Defamation League.
According to new data from the Federal Bureau of Investigation, schools and colleges were the site of 859 hate crimes in 2007 – more than 11 percent of all such crimes reported nationwide. Only homes and streets were the sites of more hate crimes than educational facilities.
Of the 859 hate acts at schools and colleges last year, 468 – or more than half – involved race, the FBI says.
Yet hate crimes may get more visibility on campus soon, Lieberman said. That’s because the new Higher Education Act bill includes a provision to require more reporting by colleges and universities.
Under the proposed legislation, colleges are to disclose information about hate crimes to the U.S. Education Department and to students. Until this year, however, the department did not require colleges to use the FBI’s broad definition of a hate crime incident.
“The new law should increase hate crime reporting,” added Lieberman.
Civil rights groups also are asking Congress and the incoming Obama administration to support a bill to bolster the federal role in combating hate crime. The organizations seek action on the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crime Prevention Act, which has floundered in Congress due to White House opposition.
Among other provisions, the bill would remove a requirement that the federal government intervene in a hate crime case only if a victim was participating in a federally protected activity such as attending public school or serving on a jury.
While the economy may be the president-elect’s first order of business, advocates called for action on the bill next year.
“Hate did not win the election,” said Janet Murguia, president of the National Council of La Raza. “But it has certainly reared its head in local communities across the country.”
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