Some cures for hate
To answer the question asked by police beating victim Rodney King during the LA Riots: No, apparently we cannot all just get along.
At least not according to a report by the LA County Commission on Human Relations, which tells us hate crimes — those committed against people because of their race, religion, gender or sexual orientation — are on the rise across the board.
The commission found that in 2007 there were a total of 763 such crimes reported, a 28 percent jump from the previous year’s figures. But that number is actually pretty close to the 1992 figure of 736 — just 27 more crimes than those committed in the year of the riots following the acquittal of the four former LAPD officers who had savagely beaten King the year before in Lakeview Terrace.
The commission uses a host of scenarios to illustrate just how dangerous it really is out there these days — even if you are not Jewish, Muslim, an ethnic minority, gay or transgender. Chances are you have either heard a hateful utterance, or seen a hateful act committed, or possibly even participated in one. The report also does a good job of pointing out just who is committing many of these crimes: mostly young men between the ages of 18 and 25, many of them involved in gangs.
As columnist Earl Ofari Hutchinson told us last week, “There are many culprits to point at” to explain at least the black-versus-brown violence being committed these days — among them, “failing public schools, gang violence and drug rites of passage, the strain and dislocation of changing neighborhoods in South LA from predominantly black to brown, competition for jobs and services, immigration tensions and resentment, and cultural and racial ignorance and insensitivity.”
Hutchinson focused his attention on a social and cultural rift widening between African Americans and Latinos, saying the report issued “a grave warning that racial [tensions] in Los Angeles County present a dangerous, destructive and deadly new threat to racial peace and harmony.”
But these were not the only groups committing hate crimes and being victimized by them. Hate crimes against people for their sexual orientation and crimes committed against people because of religious differences were also on the rise.
So what is the answer? How do we stop all this violence?
Do we hire more cops to toss the perpetrators in jail where they belong? Or do we throw money at the issue and create all sorts of after-school programs, like basketball, soccer and swimming for kids who like being active? How about creating literacy programs, the kind that kids — and, as most parents would agree, boys between the ages of 18 and 25 are really still “kids” — enjoy learning from? Or can schools do more to address bigotry and intolerance in a head-on way?
Are more jobs the answer? Could the city or county develop job-training programs in which everyone who enrolled was guaranteed a position with some participating company or agency?
Or is the problem really deeper than all that?
The truth is there’s no simple answer. Certainly there’s a core of “bad guys” — primarily gang members and wannabes — who are responsible for much of the mayhem, especially the black-brown portion. For this hardened core, more vigorous policing and prosecution is the heart of the answer. For those on the margins of gangs, job and after-school programs can offer alternatives to gang life that will reduce their numbers.
Then there are young people who have just casually absorbed bigotry from the streets or their families, for whom education may make a difference; human relations classes have shown their effectiveness in some schools, and among juveniles hate crimes are down this year.
There is no single answer. But leaders in the black and brown communities — which contain most victims as well as most perpetrators — need to address this problem as a top priority. And the rest of us should be ready to help them in devising and applying the solutions, before we have to face the uglier, much more dangerous (and much more expensive) problems of a racial powder-keg exploding around us.