When I wrote about hate crime penalty enhancers a little over a week ago, a friend sent me an article about a recent case in Long Beach, Calif. This past Halloween, three young white women were severely beaten by strangers they encountered at a block party in the Bixby Knolls neighborhood. Bixby Knolls is a popular Halloween destination because the houses are elaborately decorated and the residents are generous to trick-or-treaters.
Long Beach, a city about 20 miles south of Los Angeles, has long prided itself on its ethnic and racial diversity. The 2000 U.S. Census found Long Beach to be the most ethnically diverse large city in the nation. On Halloween night, however, the three victims and some witnesses allege that the attackers were motivated by racial hatred. Solid facts about the attack -- and the attackers -- seem scarce, but one reality is not subject to debate: the three women were profoundly injured by an African-American crowd wielding a skateboard and tree branches, as well as fists and feet. One of the women is still struggling to retain her eye, which was almost knocked from its cracked socket. Her face was fractured in 12 places. The other two women also suffered serious injuries, including concussions, cuts and bruises. Some who were there reported that the attackers were shouting, "I hate white people," while others indicated that the white women provoked the attacks with racial taunts against blacks.
There were many problems with the resulting arrests and prosecution of 10 juvenile suspects, raising questions about whether the authorities nabbed the right people and whether the prosecutors' evidence was adequate. In this week's judicial proceedings, a judge acquitted the youngest girl (California juvenile courts don't use juries.) but ruled that seven other children are guilty of felonies, including hate crimes. Two boys will be tried at a later date.
The right-wing blogosphere is all atwitter with joy at black children being convicted of racially motivated violence. You can see examples of some of the ugly bits at www.freerepublic.com/focus/f-news/1732373/posts because I won't repeat them here. From the way they are barely able to contain their drool-spattered enthusiasm for "justice," it sounds like the bloggers see this kind of black-on-white violence going unpunished every day.
The reality is that a number of black children, convicted with questionable evidence, are going to be spending several years in state detention for a horrific crime they might not have committed. Their sentences will be up to four years longer because of a well-intended attempt at balancing power (i.e., hate crime enhancers) that has ended up further oppressing the less-powerful. One only has to look at the logorrhea on the Internet to realize that in this case hate crime enhancers are only enhancing hate.
Jennifer Morales is an elected member of the Milwaukee Board of School Directors, the first person of Latino descent to hold that position. She was first elected in 2001 and was unopposed for re-election in 2005. In 2004, she ran for a seat in the Wisconsin state senate, earning 43% of the vote against a 12-year incumbent.
Previously, she served as the editorial assistant at the educational journal Rethinking Schools; as assistant director of two education policy research centers at UW-Milwaukee; and as the development director for 9to5, National Association of Working Women.
She became the first person in her immediate family to graduate from college, earning a B.A. in Modern Languages and Literatures from Beloit College in 1991.
In addition to her work on the school board, she is a freelance editorial consultant and a mother.