Hate CrimesGood Intentions Alone Cannot Relieve the Fears of African-Americans

Three young whites were arrested and charged with burning down a small black church in Alabama this summer. One suspect -- who had attended a local Klan rally the day before -- reportedly said, "Let's go burn the Nigger church."Just one week earlier, President Clinton had announced "an all out assault on hate crimes."That "assault" began with a White House Conference on November 10. It was a noble effort. There was testimony from victims, official pronouncements from law enforcement personnel that they are doing all they can.But these tell us little about why hate crimes continue to terrify African-Americans.In October, the Imperial Klans of America mocked Clinton's call by inviting the "white public" to a day-long rally in Kentucky. There were bible-laced speeches, tables selling Klan caps, Klan flags, balloons and a ceramic statuette of a hooded Klansman with glowing red eyes. The rally closed with the burning of a giant cross.All this drew no attention from the media, ridicule from law enforcement officials -- and most civil rights organizations are ready to write the Klan's obituary.Yet behind their circus antics, and apparently microscope membership numbers, hate groups like the Klan have grown since the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995, and are more dangerous than ever. At last count, there were 858 identifiable paramilitary groups operating in the 50 states. In 1996, they spent an estimated $100 million on weapons, survival gear, explosive manuals, etc. In six cities they held "Preparedness Expos" that drew thousands.They depict themselves as red-blooded citizen soldiers fighting to preserve American freedom. Their stated enemies are federal bureaus -- Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, Internal Revenue Service, FBI -- and "international bankers" and the United Nations. They no longer make derogatory statements about blacks, Jews, Asians, gays, and feminists in public statements. One seldom hears the word "nigger" at Klan rallies, and their 12-point platform rails against drug dealers, welfare cheats, immigrants and free trade but does not mention race.To some extent, this con job has worked. Many in the media and some civil rights groups have swallowed this sanitized pablum.But in fact these groups still believe passionately in white supremacy, and their publications still read like a who's who of race hatred. They have at least 250 web sites, chat rooms, and mailing lists, jammed with the standard racist articles, slogans, messages, and letters.In the six months from July to December 1996, the Imperial Klan, one of several factions, received more than 70,000 hits on their web site, with messages like: "It's a privilege to be born white." "Stand up for white rights." "If they come into your neighborhood you know what to do."Another thing that hasn't changed is that African-Americans continue to be the number one target of violent hate crimes. More than half the victims in over 30 documented hate crime murders in 1995-96 were black. Of the nearly 9,000 hate crimes reported in 1996, the majority were racially motivated, and there was evidence that some arson attacks on black churches were part of a conspiracy.The White House Conference is over. Will the government and law enforcement officials continue to minimize the importance of racial hate as a motive for hate crimes? Will it propose tougher statutes and urge speedier arrest and prosecutions of violent hate mongers? Will it prod states that drag their feet or flat out refuse to monitor hate crimes or act against them? Will it ensure law enforcement agencies provide accurate and timely reports on hate crimes?The answers to these questions are important for many African-Americans who still feel they are at mortal risk from violent hate-mongers.Earl Ofari Hutchinson is the author of "Beyond OJ: Race. Sex and Class Lessons for America." His e-mail address is ehutchi344@aol.com.

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