hate crime

We Must Always Take Sides

By: Lisa Abuogi

“We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. Elie Wiesel, Holocaust survivor, Nobel Laureate

The events in Charlottesville hit like a train. White supremacists marching openly for hate and violence. It shouldn’t have come as a surprise or shock.

We have known the undercurrents of hate and fear among white supremacists have been growing over the last decade and have surged in activity in the last few months in the form of hate crimes. But it was still painful and frightening to see.

Much has been said about what the right response is to the events and who is at fault. There is a great debate about if we should ignore or engage. If history has taught us nothing, it has taught us that ignoring hate does not make it dissipate.  Imagining that because we ourselves abhor white supremacist beliefs that is enough. It isn’t.

Every one of us, but especially those of us who are white, have an obligation now to stand up and be counted now. Most of us feel we are not racist but if you define racism as prejudice plus power you might reconsider. At an incredible workshop in Denver about how to be a white ally attended by a thousand people I learned several critical things. We can’t ask people of color or marginalized people (Muslims, Jews, refugees, LGBT) to educate us about their struggle. It’s exhausting and it puts an additional burden on them. It’s our job to educate ourselves and listen keenly. We must look at our own biases and how we have benefited from a system that oppresses others. We need to act in solidarity with marginalized groups and not expect recognition or gratitude for it.  As allies, we should gain nothing and expect to lose things that benefit us.

When I hear push back on white privilege (which is often) I consider a few personal experiences and I ask:

Have you ever been followed by a store employee as you browse the aisles?

My husband has.

Has your child ever felt unsafe because of the color of their skin?

My child has.

Have you ever considered how you will teach your son to be safe in an interaction with the police so he doesn’t get shot?

I have.

If you haven’t, you’re lucky. You’re privileged, just as I am.  

So, what should we do? This is my commitment:

1.     I will take a side. I take the side of people who have been marginalized by hate and bias.

·      Write a letter to the editor to move Confederate statues

2.     I will denounce hate in all its forms loudly and consistently.

·      Post on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram

·      Talk to neighbors, friends and family

3.     I will educate myself and self-reflect.

·      How to be a white ally

·      I will continue to examine my own biases

·      Read Ta-Nehisi Coates Between the World and I

4.     I won’t stop or take breaks, I will keep going.

·      Link to your local Black Lives Matter or Anti-Defamation League

This fall, the Brave Coalition will launch a book workshop to begin to explore bias, oppression, and privilege. I invite you to join us and begin your commitment.


#bebrave #wearebrave

What is a Hate Crime?


In the last few months, amid a crazy news cycle, some stories have lingered and continue to haunt me. A white supremacist in Oregon kills two men who intervene to stop his racist rants; a 17-year-old girl in Virginia is killed after leaving a mosque with friends; an Indian man is killed at local bar in Kansas; a noose is found hanging at the Smithsonian National Museum of African History and Culture; a pride flag is burned in California. Which of these is a hate crime? Does it matter?

A hate crime is motivated by racial, sexual, or other prejudice, and usually involves violence. Originally, the FBI only investigated hate crimes if the victim was engaged in a “federally protected activity” such as voting or going to school. But in 2009, the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr., Hate Crimes Prevention Act authorized the FBI to investigate these crimes regardless of what the victim was doing when it happened. This landmark law also expanded hate crimes to include those based on biases of actual or perceived sexual orientation, disability, gender or gender identity.

Bias incidents are considered expressions of hate where no crime is committed. They also have negative effects on individuals and communities and can threaten to escalate into full hate crimes.

How prevalent are hate crimes?

Disturbingly, hate crimes and bias incidents seem to be on the rise, such as the hate crime that became a rallying cry to form the Brave Coalition. The FBI reported 5,850 hate crimes involving 7,173 victims in the U.S. in 2015. But the Bureau of Justice Statistics suggests at least half of all hate crimes are not reported. Among the hate crimes documented by the FBI, 57% were motivated by race, ethnicity, or ancestry bias, 21% by religious bias, and 18% by sexual-orientation bias. Of those related to religious bias, 51% were anti-Jewish, 22% anti-Islamic, and 4.4% anti-Catholic. 

While the most egregious events get coverage in traditional media, social media has created a venue for spreading hate. Social media is fueling organized hate groups, as well as hate speech and trolling. A recent study from Safe Home, a security organization, reported that “likes” on hate group tweets and comments rose more than 900% between 2014 and 2016. While the actual number of twitter followers for these hate groups is relatively small, they can have a disproportionate effect on targeted groups and our society as a whole.

But why does it matter?

Isn’t a murder a murder regardless of what motivated it? Can’t people on social media just ignore hate speech? Increased penalties for hate crimes reflect that the crime wasn’t just targeted at an individual, but leaves an entire group feeling vulnerable. In addition, hate speech on the internet can reach a relatively large audience very quickly and can be a motivating factor for some to actually commit hate crimes. 

What about free speech?

Interestingly, the FBI points out “Hate itself is not a crime—and the FBI is mindful of protecting freedom of speech and other civil liberties”. The tension between free speech and preventing hate incidents is at the heart of American values. The Brave Coalition, in collaboration with the Mizel Museum and the Jewish Life Center-Chabad Denver North, invites you to consider these competing values at a unique screening of the incredible documentary Surviving Skokie, taking place on July 30, 2017 from 10am-12pm at the Stanley Marketplace Hangar.

The documentary tells the story of 7,000 Holocaust survivors in an Illinois community who, after years of silence, banded against a neo-Nazi group threatening to march on the town. This special event will include a post-screening question and answer session with the main subject of the film, an incredible man named Jack Adler. It will encourage reflection on hate in our society and contemplation of what individuals and communities can and should do in response. 

What can you do?

As the Surviving Skokie event approaches, here are some resources worth exploring:

#bebrave #wearebrave