D.C. Stands Against Hate Crimes

by: James Wright Special to the AFRO jwright@afro.com
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The District of Columbia has had a rash of hate crimes within its borders in recent months and city leaders and residents are determined to fight those who are the perpetrators.

On June 4, a noose was found at Anne Beers Elementary School in Ward 7 in Southeast D.C One June 2, Fake Immigration and Customs Enforcement flyers were posted throughout Southwest D.C. Another noose was found at the National African American Museum of History and Culture’s segregation exhibit on June 1. Both have been cited as examples of hate crimes in the city and D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) said these types of symbol and the behavior behind it won’t be tolerated.

Mónica Palacio (right), Director of the District of Columbia Office of Human Rights (OHR); and (left) Reverend Thomas L. Bowen, Director of the Office of Religious Affairs in the Executive Office of the Mayor. (Courtesy Photos)

“We are in an inclusive city and we do not tolerate signs of hate, ignorance and fear,” Bowser said in a statement released on June 3. “I have directed the Metropolitan Police to investigate these incidents, the Office of Human Rights to activate our hate crimes protocol and the Office of Religious Affairs to engage faith leaders to be resources for residents. Our diversity is what makes us stronger and we will not relent in promoting and defending D.C. values.

“We do not take these incidents lightly, and we will not accept that signs of hate are signs of our time,” she said.

Nooses are representations of the lynching of Blacks that took place after the Civil War and up until the 1970s. These lynchings took place primarily in the southern states. While a lynching was never recorded in Washington, D.C., several took place in Prince George’s County and in Virginia in the 1930s, according to accounts published in the AFRO at the time.

Hate crimes are defined by the Bias-Related Crime Act of 1989 which states, in summary, that an actual crime must have taken place and the motivation for the illegal act must be a person’s race, sex, age, sexual orientation and personal appearance, among other requirements.

A person who is found guilty of a hate crime may be fined up to 1.5 times the maximum penalty and imprisoned for up to 1.5 times the maximum terms authorized by the underlying crime, according to the Act.

While the police handle people who commit hate crimes, it is the District of Columbia Office of Human Rights that monitors and enforces the D.C. Human Rights Act in civil and some criminal cases. Monica Palacio, who serves as the director of the office, told the AFRO that “we enforce one of the most progressive civil rights laws in the country so we now have 20 protections under the D.C. Civil Rights Act.”

“The protocol was developed after there was a report of an uptick in hate crimes reported to MPD and there were a couple of incidents that we picked up on a few months ago-that included an incident where our office tweeted about an event to educate immigrants, the Know Your Rights forum, and someone re-tweeted our tweet to ICE and said, ‘Go Get the illegal!’ Palacio told the AFRO. “So we determined a need to coordinate a response so that high-level District officials would always be informed if something troubling started or a symbol was found that was motivated by hate or violence.”

In 2016 there were 107 hate crime incidents in D.C. According to police records, as of April 30, 40 hate crime incidents occurred between Jan.1-April 30, which was nine more than during the same time period in 2016.

Ward 7 political activist Anthony Wright told the AFRO that he is deeply disturbed about the rash of hate crimes in the city and doesn’t think the District government is doing a good job of investigating it.

“I am very concerned about hate crime in this city. I grew up here and it makes me sick to my stomach that there was a noose near an elementary school. I am aware of the noose at the African-American museum and now these people are going after our kids,” he said.

D.C. Statehood Rep. Franklin Garcia (D) told the AFRO that some of the hate crimes are fueled by public talk of intolerance.

“We had the president, when he was a candidate, talk openly in a derogatory fashion about Hispanics,” Garcia said. “This type of talk from the president increases hate crimes and intolerance. Trump gives license to this type of behavior and he should denounce these actions.”

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