When does it become a hate crime?

A ten year old girl – inside a building – is sprayed in the face with an unknown chemical by two men. She is watching children while their parents attend worship services, and experiences nausea and burning on her face. Other children and people in the building experience ill affects and the building is evacuated. The men are nowhere to be found.

This sounds less and less like an accident. It didn’t really sound like one before, but it sounds even less like one now. Add into it that the Islamic Society had gotten a lot of needless flak over a proposed new mosque (a smaller version of which is now in the works), and that an anti-Islamic DVD (“Obsession: Radical Islam’s War Against the West”) had been circulated in the area only days before… and it’s difficult to see anything other than bigotry.

Yet police chief Richard Biehl says that it’s not a hate crime. According to the Dayton Daily News, he said that “The men didn’t say anything to her [before she was sprayed]… There was nothing left at the scene or anything that makes us believe this is a biased crime.”

In fact – again according to the DDN – they are investigating whether a crime was even committed.

Hate crimes (also known as bias motivated crimes) occur when a perpetrator targets a victim because of his or her membership in a certain social group, usually defined by racial group, religion, sexual orientation, disability, ethnicity, nationality, age, gender, gender identity, or political affiliation.

The possibility does exist that these two men were randomly spraying chemicals in through basement windows. It is even possible that these two men were going to spray chemicals in some random person’s face, and the first opportunity they had was to spray in through a basement window at a mosque.

The possibility also exists that there is a pink elephant with wings that did it.

Discrimination, racism, and prejudice don’t require obvious declarations of hatred. We should be so lucky that all bigots openly announced their prejudice and motivations. Unfortunately, such open acts of terror are rare. Instead, the terror and fear caused by hate crimes is often more damaging when they’re just done. The reactions – and feelings – of those attacked were heartbreakingly summarized, as refugees from war zones wonder if they should return there. So I have to ask – does someone have to be stupid enough to say they did it because of prejudice to be applicable as a hate crime?

[shakes head]

In the meantime, there’s the real possibility that nobody will be arrested or charged with this. So what, as neighbors, can we do?

It is our job – our responsibility – as decent human beings to let those who are attacked know they are welcome here in our cities and towns. That they are valued as real people as much as we value everyone else.

Put yourself in their shoes. Imagine the Sunday School, PREP, CCD, or youth service at your place of worship being assaulted in the same way. Your children being sprayed with an unknown chemical by unknown people… after a rather public campaign denouncing your church?

“Love your neighbor as yourself,” we are commanded. Here, it is clear who our neighbors are.

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One Comment

  1. Brother OMi
    October 1, 2008

    i am still baffled by this story. everytime i hear it, I have to scratch my head.

    its amazing how the mainstream press can say “hey it’s not a hate crime,” the local sheriff can say the same thing, and everyone says “okay”

    personally, the perpetrators should be arrested and charged will kinds of crimes because they violated so many.

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