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Friday, December 19, 2014

Recording ethnicity can help lessen hate crimes

Editor,

Thanks for reporting the hate letter on the car and the earlier writing of “Sand-N*gger” on the same victim’s door at the SRCs on campus in last Wednesday’s Daily Lobo, but I noticed you did not include the race/ethnicity/religion of the victim.

This is a serious omission. This is why so many crimes go unproven as hate crimes, and therefore are not subject to New Mexico’s hate crime enhancement in sentencing.

Consider “Sand N*gger.” It is a demeaning slur against a person of Middle Eastern/Arab/North African descent. Proving demographic information about the victim helps police find the culprit, such as if he or she has been known to say bad things about a specific racial, ethnic or religious group.

Thus in 2000, when members of the UNM chapter of the Sigma Chi fraternity drew a swastika on a car parked illegally in their house’s lot, it helped the case leading to the fraternity’s temporary suspension when it was learned that the car belonged to an African American woman.

But law enforcement historically has been unconscionably lax about recording such information. Even in progressive Berkeley, Calif., at least in the early 1990s, police were leaving the “ethnicity of victim” field on their reports blank.

Such omissions at the local level hamper the FBI, which collects statistics on hate crime. The feds need significant numbers of the same ethnicity, race or religion to spot patterns and plot trends. Even at the federal level, it was only very recently that Sikhs began being counted officially as their own category of victims of hate crime.

Hopefully such statistics can lead to shrewder preventive measures at hate groups. The first step is nipping hate in the butt by making sure institutional policy prohibits hate speech in the first place.

It is in recognition of how it can incite violence that countries like the U.K. have made hate speech against the law. For us Americans, why should it not at least be part of, say, campus restrictions on bullying and harassment?

If this is not done, as when police prematurely say “the case is closed,” it only emboldens such verbally violent bigots toward physical violence.

Arun Anand Ahuja
UNM student