Political climate blamed for hate crime increase

BY DAN TRUDEAU
Daily Staff Reporter
Published December 4, 2002

A report issued by the FBI last month revealed that hate crimes against people and institutions affiliated with the Islamic religion rose from 28 in 2000 to 481 in 2001. The significant shift in these statistics and a political environment - charged with religious and racial tension - have led to increased concern over incidents of ethnic, religious and other forms of intimidation on campus, the report states.

Some students at the University felt that while violence against Muslim students is rare on campus, harassment and intimidation are not uncommon.

"Overall the campus is a very supportive place," Law student Ali Ahmad said. "But it's like the rest of the nation and at times a little more tense."

Ahmad added that there have been several isolated incidents on campus were Muslim students were harassed while praying, which has created an uncomfortable atmosphere.

U.S. Rep. John Conyers (D-Detroit), a vocal advocate for stronger legislation on hate crime enforcement, cited the FBI report as a major reason why stronger federal legislation on hate crime prosecution is necessary. Conyers called on fellow lawmakers to make the proposed legislation a reality.

"If our nation is going to battle terrorism abroad, we must be willing to confront the domestic terrorism of hate crimes, and that means a willingness to make it a federal crime to harm or kill someone because of their race, religion or other factors. I am confident that we have bipartisan majorities in both the House and the Senate to pass such a law, but we need leadership from the White House to make this happen," Conyers said in a written statement.

The University Office of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Affairs also said that numbers of reports of harassment and discrimination on the basis of sexual preference on campus have been higher this semester than any semester in the past four years.

"The University is very concerned about making things as safe as possible, but there's always a problem no matter where you are," LGBT Director Frederic MacDonald-Dennis said.

MacDonald-Dennis added that an increase in reports may or may not signify an increase in harassment and that the LGBT Office and other University departments are ready to offer support for students who have been the victim of hate.

"If someone has been victimized we offer intervention services and work with Clinical and Psychological Services, the Department of Public Safety and other organizations to help people find the support that they need. People are definitely reporting more incidents which means that victims are getting more support."

On campus, officials have taken special precautions since the Sept. 11 attacks to prevent this national trend from extending to the University. DPS representatives said as a result, incidents of harassment or intimidation have been very rare.

"We try to reach out to the various student groups to see if they're having any problems, and if they are we do what we can to help them. But we've had very few incidents on campus in recent years," DPS Police Services Bureau Cmdr. Joe Piersante said.

Many students believe that while the FBI's numbers show an increase in hate crime, they feel the campus is a generally secure environment. "I feel pretty safe," LSA freshman Andres Carter said. "I don't feel like the University itself is protecting me, but I think that the minority groups protect each other. I don't view the majority as a threat."

But not all students believe the University always provides a safe and diverse environment for all students.

"I don't see any programs at the University that break down barriers or bring different groups together," Engineering senior Roshan Patel said. "There are student groups for many minorities, but they only appeal to their own culture. Most people don't set out to learn about different groups; it's intimidating when you're the only one who is different."

But even with the subtly persistent presence of hate, officials at the American Civil Liberties Union proudly assert that the state of Michigan has seen a relatively small number of hate related crimes in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks.

"I think that the reason that there wasn't a bigger backlash (against Muslims) in Michigan is that a number of civil rights groups, law enforcement agencies and people in the community took a stand early on against hate crimes," Michigan ACLU Executive Director Kary Moss said.