October 13, 2007

Call to Action for Megan Williams: National March Against Hate Crimes

Villagers are encouraged to support the November 3rd National March Against Hate Crimes to be held in Charleston, WV. The march begins in front of West Virginia State University and concludes at the West Virginia State Capitol in Charleston.

The purpose of this march is to bring national and statewide support to Charleston resident Megan Williams, the Williams Family and victims of other hate crimes nationwide. The Jena 6 case, the rise in the hanging of nooses and other current acts of injustices and intimidation against people of African descent will all be highlighted at this National March Against Hate Crimes. Families and victims of hate crimes that are occurring throughout the nation will attend. Black Lawyers For Justice, the Williams Family and organizers are demanding that Federal Hate Crimes charges be brought against the five hillbillies charged for rape, torture and kidnapping. They are also demanding Congressional hearings on hate crimes against African American citizens as well a wide range of actions to combat the growing attacks on African Americans around the country.

BLFJ and the Support Committee For Megan Williams are the primary organizers for this march. This march will be endorsed by at least 100 Black organizations, student groups, clergy and leaders of every stripe. You can reach out to BLFJ by phone (304.657-1493) or email (shabazzlaw@aol.com).


MountainLaurel said...

Thanks for posting this. I''ll be there.

Villager said...

Mountain Laurel - Asante sana for visiting our village today. Please share the information on the March Against Hate Crimes with others.

Anonymous said...

Recently, I was asked why it mattered whether a prosecutor sent a man to jail for 10 years for battery versus 10 years for a hate crime. This is why: hate crime law redresses the actual harm against society (systematized hate), not its manifestation (battery). As long as the battery is the only harm penalized, the systematized hate gets to live on, immortalized and without response. Making hate crime law a functional tool means we can respond to and deter the real wounds such violence inflicts on society, freeing us all to get on with the business of healing.

In 1968, Congress first attempted to federally criminalize hate crimes via 18 U.S.C.A. 245(b)(2). That law made it illegal to interfere with a person because of his race, color, religion, or national origin, if he was performing one of six federally protected activities. Offenders were penalized between one and a term of years, depending on the severity of their act. That law was deficient in two ways: it did not protect such acts as they related to a person’s gender, sexual orientation, or disability, and the six federally-protected activity approach was severely limiting.

The first deficiency was cured through Congress’s 1994 Violent Crimes and Law Enforcement Act (18 USC 994 note, which also created a three level enhancement for hate crime convictions); the second is a proposed cure through the Matthew Sheppard Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevent Act 2007 (HR 1592/S. 1105). Under amended and proposed law, violence and injury are prohibited without regard to the six federally protected activities, and the protection now covers the targeting of victims because of the race, color, religion, national origin, AND sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, and disability.

Still, hate crimes are on the rise (as of 2006, the most recent reporting period, hate crimes rose almost 8 percent) but the prosecution of such crimes is hardly keeping pace. For example, federal prosecution of hate crimes rose by a mere eight convictions from 2006 (N=281) to 2007 (N=289). Worse yet, the 2007 figure represents the “record number” of hate crime convictions to date by the Department of Justice. When one compares the 281 federal convictions in 2006 to the 7,722 incidents of hate crime reported in 2006, the disconnect between the volume of crimes of the decision to prosecute becomes clear.

Overwhelming data shows that prosecutors do not pursue hate crimes charges in step with the volume of hate crime occurrences. As a society, we must consider whether prosecutors bypass these charges because other charges are more effective at penalizing criminals for longer periods of time. Hate crime law responds to offenses against society; in the more egregious hate crimes cases, hate crimes charges carry a lighter sentence than the other available charges like battery and kidnapping. Since a prosecutor’s goal is to secure the maximum penalty against a wrongdoer, pursing hate crimes may undermine her goal. Thus a prosecutor, at least initially, may fail to pursue hate crimes charges as they create a conflict between her goal (pursuing maximum criminal sanctions) and the legislature’s intent (pursuing social justice).

The pending case of Megan Williams personifies the crime-to-prosecution disconnect. Megan Williams is a 23-year old black woman who was kidnapped and tortured for about a week in September 2007. Her captors forced her to eat rat droppings, choked her with a cable cord and stabbed her in the leg while calling her a racial slur, poured hot water over her, made her drink from a toilet, and beat and sexually assaulted her. State prosecutor Brian Abrahams has for the time being chosen to not to pursue state hate crimes charges, which carry a sentence of up to ten years, but instead press for state criminal crimes that would expose the defendants to life sentences. When asked why, one Assistant United States Attorney was frighteningly cogent: “As a practical matter, sentenced to life, what else can be done?” Still, society’s wounds weep.

The unintended consequence of failing to acknowledge and penalize hate crimes can include a deep seated mistrust in the justice system, and a festering sense of disenfranchisement by members of targeted groups. It is not enough to punish the manifestation of hate, and thus we must invest in law that not only advance genuinely important prosecutorial goals (long term incarceration) but also redress society’s wounds, properly punish the guilty, and put the nation on notice for the complete absence of judicial tolerance for hate. Only then will we see a decline in systematized rage by the wrongdoers and judicial mistrust by their victims.

Villager said...

Anon - You give a reasoned argument in favor of appropriate use of hate crime processing ... not just to punish the criminal, but to help heal the community.

I appreciate you taking time to share your village voice and I'm grateful that you felt comfortable enough to do so here.

Now, If we can just get you to give up that anonymous tag (smile)...

JusticeForAll said...

I am "Anonymous," from the lengthy comment above.

I am in law school and on law review, and I am writing a comment about hate crimes in the United States. I'd like to learn about general attitudes towards hate crime law. For example, what do people think the law is for? Do they think the law is working? How can the law be improved upon?

I have created a survey with 14 short questions; answering this survey should take around 3 minutes. I am asking each of you to take a few minutes and submit a quick response. YOU WILL NOT BE ASKED FOR ANY IDENTIFYING INFORMATION like your name or email address, so you don't have to worry about being added to a list serve for later use.

I just need to know what people think, and the virtual world is one of the best ways to find out. I truly appreciate any help you have to give.

To access the survey, click on this link (or cut and paste it into the address bar of your browser):


Thank you so very much for your help.

Villager said...

Justice - I appreciate you coming out from ~lurk~ mode! I hope you find reason to visit our village again in the future. Anyhow, I took your survey. I also shared it with some other Black bloggers via a group called The AfroSpear.

Good luck on your study...