Equality Michigan hate crimes talk tackles difficult subject

By |2018-01-16T01:36:41-05:00December 8th, 2011|News|

It’s a subject that brings to light one of the very darkest examples of man’s inhumanity toward man. About 50 people came out to a panel discussion on hate crimes last Wednesday. The discussion, which took place in the Spencer Patrich Auditorium of the Wayne State University Law School, was organized by Equality Michigan.
“I want to begin by talking not about the crime part, but about the hate part of the equation,” said Denise Brogan-Kator, EM’s executive director. “It is, after all, hate that begets violence, and unless we get to that root cause, it will not end.”
Brogan-Kator said that is the work of Equality Michigan that inspired her to want to lead the organization.
“We cannot make people who are blinded to our humanity by hate, or warped theology, suddenly see us as neighbors and fellow Michiganders deserving of full equality and respect,” she said. “We cannot simply reach into people’s hearts and change them. We must instead change the environment that allows hate to openly express itself through discrimination – in our schools, our workplaces, our neighborhoods, our stores and restaurants, hospitals, and government institutions. ”
According to Nusrat Ventimiglia, EM’s director of victim services, last year saw a 13 percent increase in crimes against LGBT and HIV-positive people.
“Since January 2010, we have consistently seen at least three incidents of violent crime every month,” Ventimiglia said.
United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan Barbara McQuade spoke about the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act signed into law by Congress in 2009. The act expands the 1969 United States federal hate-crime law to include crimes motivated by a victim’s actual or perceived gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or disability.
“This is a criminal statute and we enforce it criminally,” said McQuade. “Matthew Shepard was a 21-year-old man who was tortured and murdered simply because he was gay. James Byrd, Jr. was an African-American man from Texas who was tortured and murdered simply because of his race.”
McQuade said that when a hate crime is committed, “it’s not just the victim that is victimized. It’s everyone who shares that characteristic who now feels vulnerable.”
Dan Levy, director of law and policy for the Michigan Department of Civil Rights, agreed.
“When people say all crime is hate crime they’re pretending,” he said. “There’s an intuitive knowledge that writing XXX on a car is not the same as writing KKK.
“Hate crimes are intended to send a message,” he continued. “‘We don’t like you. We don’t want you here. Get lost.’ And when a community doesn’t respond to a hate crime, the message is, ‘We agree.'”
Just days after passage of an anti-bullying bill by the Michigan legislature, bullying, as expect, was another topic of the evening.
Bullying “is a brand of hate crime,” said McQuade “I think today’s bullies are tomorrow’s hate crime defendants.”
A powerful moment in the discussion came when McQuade referenced a quote from the late Sen. Ted Kennedy.
“Ted Kennedy once said, ‘Civil rights is the great unfinished business of our nation,'” she said. “I think the unfinished business of our country is now the LGBT community.”
Levy followed up on that theme and localized it, taking on the Michigan legislature.
“Refusing to recognize gay rights as an important protection of LGBT people, without a doubt, is counterproductive to the economic efforts and recovery of this state, which our legislators say is their all-important purpose and end all.”

About the Author:

Jason A. Michael
Jason A. Michael joined Between The Lines as a contributing writer in 1999. He has received both the Spirit of Detroit Award (presented by the Detroit City Council) and the Media Award from the Community Pride Banquet & Awards Ceremony for his writing and activism. Jason is also an Essence magazine bestselling author for his authorized biography "Strength Of A Woman: The Phyllis Hyman Story," released on his own JAM Books imprint.