Rev. Gregory Flint/ First Congregational Church/ Eugene Oregon: “One belief more than any other is responsible for so much division in the world and bloodshed. It is the belief that those who do not share my faith, do not really share my humanity.”
On January 1, 2001, 48 minutes into the new year, the new century, and the new millennium, three arsonists torched Temple Emanu-El in Reno. The footage from a security camera showed one of the criminals wore a shirt with a cross on it. He profaned two religions with one act.
The same synagogue had been firebombed in November 1999 by five Nazi white supremacist skinheads who were later arrested and convicted.
In July 2014, the Chabad of Southern Nevada in Las Vegas was spray-painted with graffiti that read “Free Palestine” and “Free Gaza.”
In March 2001 two Muslim men were beaten with a baseball bat at a Reno mosque where, in an earlier incident, children had been threatened by a man with a gun.
In 2002 in Las Vegas, a racist skinhead stabbed a driving instructor 128 times and likely also carved a swastika in the victim’s back.
All this is by way of saying that Pahrump is not alone in experiencing hate crimes in this state. As reported in these pages on July 24, a spelling-challenged person or persons vandalized with graffiti (“Forieger go home”; “Go home, Indian”) a business owned by a 30-year U.S. resident. The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) has taken an interest in the case.
I get a mailing each day from CAIR. It is usually a listing of the previous day’s hate crimes around the United States. There are normally six, seven, perhaps eight such crimes, every day, all year long.
In June there was news coverage of the uncertain reporting to the FBI of hate crimes in Nevada, with both the FBI and the local agencies failing to have consistent reporting practices, leaving the state with useless statistics. One suspects that these slipshod practices indicate that a lot of people in law enforcement do not take hate crimes all that seriously. If they did, all this would have been straightened out sometime in the last quarter century since collection of hate crime statistics began.
Then there is the issue of our political leadership. With politicians trying hard to pit us all against each other – and with some citizens responding to that encouragement – hatred spreads with the imprimatur of prominent men (it’s more often men than women).
Dislike of people who appear different from us makes for economic hardship. In 2001, at a time when immigration into Germany was a hot political issue, a national commission studying the problem pointed out that nations compete for people. The commission’s report called immigrants a national asset in that competition. “We need immigrants and not only as an exceptional deviation from normality but as the new normality,” said a commissioner. Accompanying recommendations were enacted into law, giving Germany greater protection against recession.
Nevada has laws against graffiti (see www.leg.state.nv.us/nrs/NRS-206.html), but the penalties are light, which is appropriate. Moreover, there is considerable debate about hate crime laws. There are those who believe that only the crime, not the motive, should be punished, because punishing motives moves government into the business of policing opinion.
In 2005, the Anti-Defamation League, the Clark County School District and local law enforcement officials started an anti-graffiti campaign. But graffiti prevention efforts hardly get at the motive for graffiti.
Among all the debates about hate crimes, we can be pretty sure that one of them is well settled. It’s easy to encourage them. This is how: We stay silent. We wink. We treat them as just another point of view, lending them legitimacy. With no social stigma against them, they continue and increase.
Dennis Myers is an award-winning journalist who has reported on Nevada’s capital, government and politics for several decades. He has also served as Nevada’s chief deputy secretary of state.