What is a hate crime, anyway?

My turn

Posted: Monday, April 02, 2001

When I first heard about the paintball attacks that took place on Jan. 14 against Alaska Natives in Anchorage, I was horrified. When the police announced over a month later they knew who the assailants were, I was surprised no one had been arrested. When they said a 24-minute video tape of the crime in progress was not enough evidence, I was disgusted.

Now, almost three months later, after 20-year-old Charles D. Wiseman was arrested and charged with misdemeanor assault, he was sent home with his parents and given a curfew to await trial. Authorities won't name the other two young people because they are 17-year-old juveniles. Officials also won't say if charges have been filed against these out-of-control hoodlums. They have been sent back to school.

In an attempt to do something, the school system suspended the students for the rest of the year. Ho-hum. All the two kids have to do is transfer their credits to another school and they lose nothing.

I guess it is all just a matter of perspective. The targets were just Natives, right? And, nobody got hurt very bad, right? They were just kids with too much time on their hands having a little fun, right?

I heard a commentator on an Anchorage news station say he didn't know the definition of a "hate crime." So, I would like to share my thoughts on the subject.

A hate crime is when someone comes along and takes your homes and your land just because they want them. They deserve to because they think they are more "civilized" than you. After all, you look and dress differently, you live a different lifestyle and you have different beliefs. They call you "savages" and threaten your children to stop them from speaking in that "heathen" language.

A hate crime is when they try to take your culture, your way of life and crush it. They try to strip you of your pride and try to leave you with no way to provide for your family.

A hate crime is when they watch you climb into a bottle out of desperation and stand back and make fun of you instead of extending a helping hand.

A hate crime is when they teach their children that it is all right to shoot frozen paintballs at you and call you a "drunk Eskimo." They don't believe the authorities will do anything anyway.

I wonder if the scenario were reversed, how quickly a Native person would have been in shackles if the targets had been a state legislator, a doctor, a lawyer or perhaps a military officer - and, oh yeah, the targets had been white.

Frozen paintballs are hard projectiles and could easily cause irreparable damage to the victim's face and eyes. If these kids are not punished for what they did, we might as well say we condone their actions because they know they can do it again and get away with it. And the next time, it won't be frozen paintballs.

Sara Sue Hoklotubbe is a Native American (Cherokee) freelance writer who recently moved to Juneau.

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