When you’re a writer, people tell you things. You collect stories. True stories, that aggregate over time to weave a sort of.. Mental tapestry. A backdrop against which you keep a vibrant, living picture of the city through which you move and dream.
Since November 8th, the fabric of that tapestry is revealing some ugly stains.
. . .
“I drive a forklift.. I drive it around and offload eighteen wheelers for the Army and Air Force Exchange Service. We handle the transfer of all bulk pallets for the base PX or Navy Exchange. It’s a Department of Defense civilian job. Over at the shipyard.
I work a full day. Ten, eleven, sometimes twelve hours. This was.. Ah. Three days after the election. I worked my shift and clocked out. I usually stop to use the restroom on the way out and that day I had to go bad. There’s a bus transfer station over on the base, so I parked over there and ran in to do my business. Walked in and headed to the last stall. That’s when I saw it.
Someone had written, “The KKK is coming n***ers.
I.. Just went cold. You know? I mean, sure. It’s just stupid graffiti. But with all the stuff in the news lately. With Trump winning. It got to me in a way this crap usually doesn’t. I reached up to touch it and the ink was still wet. Rubbed off onto my finger like it was fresh.
I must have just missed the guy who did it.
I’m standin’ there thinking.. This.. Look, a lot of African Americans use this station. Navy personnel who serve their country. Whoever put it there.. He knew..
He knew it was gonna be black folk who saw it.”
. . .
The argument, most often brought up against Hate Crime legislation when it’s mentioned is that any crime that involves abuse is a hate crime. That we have laws on the books that already make this stuff illegal. That targeting actions that are already illegal along specific lines of race, religion, gender, or sexual orientation do little more than cater to a narrow set of interests.
That said, this argument misses the point, to a degree. Hate Crime legislation is better viewed as an effective tool in a society that recognizes its affliction when it comes to systemic oppression. The important and vital components of laws like these aren’t so much the classification of particular criminal acts. What makes a Hate Crime bill effective are the aggravated and mandatory minimum sentencing guidelines that serve as a counter to jury pools that are tainted by the various biases their communities are infected by.
Put a different way? Hate Crime classifications are self correcting measures for a state that recognizes its illness, and is striving to rise above it.
. . .
“I’m Norfolk born and raised. Left for awhile for business, and now at the age of 32, I’m a student at Old Dominion University. I’m also of Bangladeshi descent, and a Muslim.
Another Bangladeshi friend of mine told me this story. This was three days after the election. Our parents are friends, and I’ve known her for a long time. She’s at the grocery store. In one of the aisles, making a choice on which brand of whatever she wants to purchase, when she realizes she’s blocking a man who has a full cart from moving past.
Her boy’s super friendly. He smiles up at the man and waves. She’s kind of, well.. She’s a little shy. So she offers up her own smile and shifts to one side, juggling her bags and moving her son so the man can pass.
As he walks past her, she hears him mutter, “That’s right.”
He doesn’t look at her as she’s saying it. He just walks past like she’s.. I don’t know. Like she’s some kind of criminal. You know.. Like, “That’s right. You don’t belong here. You **better** move.”
She told me she hasn’t felt like that since shortly after September 11th. Her boy? He’s too young to understand. But she knew what the man meant. We all know.
It’s heartbreaking. And enraging. I’m married, but we’ve put off having kids. I think we really do still want to have some, but then the question is: Is this a safe place to raise children?
And I’m not sure it is. Not now.”
. . .
A bit ago, I asked our newly appointed Norfolk Chief of Police, Larry Boone, if we had a division specifically dedicated to Hate Crime. “No. Not specifically. But we do handle Hate Crimes,” he answered. When I pressed further, indicating that I’ve been hearing about rising incidents of harassment from various minority communities in our city since the election, Boone seemed surprised, “We haven’t seen any indication of that.”
That this is the case certainly doesn’t mean that our police are in any way avoiding the issue — after all, harassment on its own rarely metes the kind of personal injury that pushes victims to report a crime. Boone, by all accounts, prides himself on his involvement in the community he polices. That said? It’s just a matter of time before he starts to see cases crossing his desk involving serious crimes bourne of bigots.
How he reacts as these minor incidents flare into actual crimes will be an early test of his leadership. From what I’ve seen, I have hope that Boone is the right man for the job.
. . .
“I went to a funeral today. A fourteen year old girl. She was the daughter of a friend of mine, who is a Latino-American.
This wasn’t in Norfolk, but it wasn’t far from here. She.. My friend and his wife had no idea. But apparently she was getting bullied at school. Really, really badly. It had been going on for awhile. Afterwards, some of her classmates have come forward with stories. She stayed home one day. Got a hold of one of her father’s guns.
They were threatening her. She was scared. Stuff like, “We’re not gonna wait for the Wall. We’re gonna come get you now.” Stuff like that. They were terrorizing this poor girl.
And I guess it just got to be too much for her.
Her parents are devastated.”
. . .
That Donald Trump rose to power in part by appealing to divisions along racial lines seems obvious to those of us who are aware of White privilege in our communities. That he seems to be appointing people to his cabinet who are virulently homophobic is unfortunate. That he was elected despite on tape admissions of a misogynist nature is appalling. In an America that for the past three decades has been inexorably transforming itself into a nation of inclusion, these are disheartening developments.
For the forces of intolerance, it’s almost certainly empowering.
Consider the recent footage of White Power advocates rallying in our nation’s capital. Pay attention to the fervor in their statements. It’s been a long time since the Ku Klux Klan endorsed a sitting President. It’s been quite a while since these people felt comfortable using this kind of language in anything more than private whispers.
. . .
“I’m walking down the sidewalk, about a block past my house. And as I pass Cogan’s, there’s a guy on the patio yelling over to me. He wants to bum a cigarette. I’m low in the pack, so I cordially refuse the request. Guy tries to get me to sell him one. “I’ll give you a dollar!” He yells. I’m really not trying to mess with this, so I apologize again and keep walking. I make it three steps when I realize he’s yelling at me.
‘You f***ing Jew.’
I stop. Try to shrug it off. After all, I’m not actually Jewish — it maybe shouldn’t get to me. This is really not my problem to deal with, right? I take another step and then stop again. No. I can’t ignore this. I turn and start walking back to him. ‘I’m sorry. What did you just say to me?’ He yells several more obscenities. And then he does something I haven’t seen a human being do in person in the four decades I’ve been alive.
He gives me a Nazi salute.
The force of it.. The surreal nature of the situation I’ve inexplicably found myself in? It almost knocks me over. I’m stunned. I can only watch, speechless, as he reaches in his pocket. He pulls out a handful of change and flings it at me. ‘There’s your thirty pieces of silver, you f***ing Jew.'”
This last story? It wasn’t sent to me in an email. It was not relayed to me by a third party. Nobody told me this over the phone.
It happened **to** me.
This was an direct actual experience in the neighborhood of Ghent. Not three blocks from a synagogue. Less than a week after the election.
This is real life. This is what’s happening right now. On the streets my children walk to get to school.
. . .
In a country where the ruling party seems little inclined to address these issues, and in fact seem intent on profiting from such movements through code words and dog whistles — enforcement of Hate Crime law on a local level is quite possibly the last line of defense we have against a back slide to the bad old days. But it takes a police force that is trained to recognize where these laws are applicable to file the appropriate charges when warranted.
A city that fails in devoting resources to arming it’s police with the knowledge to act against this brand of societal malaise is ill-equipped to stand it’s ground against the rollback of progress. Our newly elected Mayor, revitalized City Council, and recently appointed Police Chief should all take a hard look at training programs designed to increase force-wide awareness and maximize the response against Hate Crime.
The good news is that there are organizations dedicated to aiding law enforcement in these efforts. The Anti Defamation League has a center just over in Washington DC — well within striking distance of our fair city, that specializes in providing this exact manner of training.
It easy enough for anyone who’s watching the signs to see that an increase in Hate Crimes is on the horizon.
Let’s be pro-active in our preparations for dealing with it. Train your officers now. Get in front of the problem, and keep Norfolk a city of inclusion.
Fight this rising tide of ugliness on our streets. Let your actions speak louder than words. Let them hear the battle cry rung clearly from every corner of our home.
Not in our town.
Train for it now. Before it’s too late.
Learn more about the Anti Defamation League and programs it offers to aid law enforcement in countering racism it provides by clicking here.