Numerous incidents this past year have increased discussion over what constitutes a hate crime. Just about every minority community has endured violence throughout the world based upon this type of bias.
A commitment is needed to help reverse what has been ingrained in so many for so long if we want to see better for the next generation. At the Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy, we hope a more serious discussion occurs about understanding and accepting racial cultures and differences.
Why is a child advocacy group raising this issue? Because what adults say and do will impact children around them, including conversations that create bias and racism in the next generation. Even an insensitive, racially-based joke can lead to a lifelong bias against a particular group and possibly even instigate hate-based actions.
There are different legal definitions regarding hate crimes. Thanks to Hunsucker Legal Group for helping with this topic. As defined in Oklahoma’s law, a hate crime is where the perpetrator of a crime has “the specific intent to intimidate or harass another person because of that person’s race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin or disability.”
The first offense is a misdemeanor carrying a $1,000 fine and/or imprisonment in the county jail for up to a year. A felony conviction increases punishment to as much as 10 years for second or subsequent offenses; fines go as high as $10,000. Furthermore, perpetrators can be sued in civil court for damages caused while committing the crime.
At the federal level, the Justice Department generally allows any state prosecution of an underlying crime to proceed before deciding whether pursue a civil rights investigation via the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
The federal government defines a hate crime as a crime committed “because of the actual or perceived race, color, religion, or national origin of any person.” If a federal prosecutor can prove this kind of intent, it would satisfy the “bias” requirement necessary to convert an otherwise ordinary act of physical violence into a federal hate crime.
Understanding the punishment is important, but more importantly, we must work to stop hate before it starts. Children are not born with hatred toward others who look different. They learn it from the words and actions of adults around them. To end racism, we must speak up when we hear these wrongful and hurtful words.
As great as America is, we have a long history of prejudice. Even the magnificent Constitution contains the odious “Three-fifths Compromise,” creating a separate class of humans. Moreover, just a generation ago, many Americans were denied full and equal voting rights based upon their race.
Closer to home, this year marks the 100th anniversary of the Tulsa Race Massacre, a catastrophe with which our nation and state are only just now coming to grips. Nor should we ignore the AAPI internment camps locking up American citizens of Asian descent during World War II, as well as the increased attacks against them in the past year, stoked by ignorance, fear, and hate.
Only by discussing this history factually and weighing its impact on those who endured discrimination will we ensure that young people understand that mistakes were made in the past. We must work not to repeat them. Remembering and reckoning is not a weakness; it allows us to ensure these tragic mistakes are never repeated on American soil. That is the true excellence we should strive to achieve as Americans.