By Maritza Cruz
Legislation isn’t enough. Tucsonans emphasized the importance of creating conversations about hate to prevent hate crimes.
The Tucson City Council approved a hate crimes ordinance on March 21. The ordinance implements harsher penalties for misdemeanor hate crimes like a mandatory ten days in jail for someone’s first conviction, 20 days in jail for a second offense and 40 days for a third offense. The maximum fine for someone convicted of a hate crime is now $2,500.
According to the City of Tucson, a hate crime is a criminal offense against a person or property that is motivated by an offender’s improper bias or the perceived race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, ethnicity, gender or gender identity of the victim.
Mayor Jonathan Rothschild proposed the stricter hate crimes ordinance after a series of anti-Semitic bomb threats occurred throughout the United States. The Tucson Jewish Community Center was one of the Jewish community centers targeted.
Community members held a public forum on Wednesday, April 5, at the Dunbar School Auditorium to discuss how hate crimes impact their communities. The panel consisted of representatives from the Black Lives Matter, undocumented immigrants, Muslim and Jewish communities.
The moderator was Joel Feinman, editor in chief of the Pima Liberator.
Harpo Jaeger, co-founder of Affinity.works, is a member of the Jewish community. He said anti-Semitism is linked to other minority racism.
“This stuff is happening, anti-Semitism is here. Somebody who traffics in this kind of racism, like we should know at this point, hatred of Jews is never far down the list,” Jaeger said.
Najima Rainey, Black Lives Matter activist, said she was always ambivalent with “hate crimes.” Rainey’s mother worked for the Tucson Human Relations Commission in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
She said her mother explained the need for enhancement to our current hate crimes legislation.
“[The legislation] is there to say your crime didn’t just affect the people that you attacked, your crime affected the entire community,” Rainey said. “It affected people and told them that they weren’t safe, that they weren’t a part of the community.”
Rainey said the fear that the hate crime created doesn’t stop at one person it spreads out.
“When I say that I have an ambivalent relationship with that label, as much as I think those enhancements are appropriate and important, it’s also reflective of what’s wrong with our culture in general because when you commit a crime designed to terrorize a community, it’s called terrorism,” Rainey said.
Hate driven crimes are rarely referred to as domestic terrorism, but society labels hate crimes abroad as foreign terrorism, Rainey said.
Rainey said Americans need to have a conversation about the culture in the United States that produces hate crimes.
“Before we can talk about correcting policies, we have to correct what’s at the root of the problem,” Rainey said.
Zaira Livier, living wage and immigrant’s rights advocate, said neoliberalism is the root of hate crimes. Neoliberalism is a political ideology that emphasizes that personal liberty is maximized by limiting government interference in the operation of free markets.
Livier said the hate of “the other” perpetuates the culture of hate crimes and leads to systemic racial violence.
“The other is always something new and this happens in cycles,” Livier said. “So the other at this moment is Muslims, it’s also black folks, it’s immigrants, it’s Mexicans, according to Trump as well, so we are all part of the other.”
Livier is a Mexican immigrant who originally crossed the border as a child. She got her residency when she was 13.
“This isn’t a Trump manifestation. Trump is just the epitome of neoliberal policies and corporatization in action,” Livier said. “This is a long, long history of exploitation, disenfranchisement of communities of color and actual racial violence against these minorities.”
The panel addressed what schools can do to prevent hate crimes and bring awareness to children from the beginning.
Oula Bibidi, Muslim-American Syrian immigrant and activist, said she worked as a school principal.
“I believe that as an educator we need to spread awareness of others, and we need to teach our kids that this world does not only represent you in particular,” Bibidi said.
She said educators should include more social events introducing students to people from different perspectives, religions, races and backgrounds to teach them tolerance and acceptance. Teachers should also leave their opinions out of the classroom because their opinions don’t reflect everyone.
Livier said to raise children who are accepting and don’t resort to hate violence, the curriculum needs to change.
“Let’s begin by actually teaching accurate history,” Livier said, “also, let’s not deprive minorities of their own history, of their own studies, like we have here in Arizona and across the country.”
She said children need to learn the truth behind American history rather than the “white cowboy” narrative.
Rainey said examining education is important, but people need to also have difficult conversations at home.
“We need to stop coddling white kids at schools. We got to stop coddling them. They need to be confronted with truth, and they need to feel uncomfortable,” Rainey said.
Rainey said she remembers a woman asked her when she was on another panel what she does when white children tell her they didn’t ask for privilege and don’t want it. Rainey said that is not her problem.
“That boy needs to go home and have a conversation with his mom and dad,” Rainey said. “They need to say, ‘Ok you see how that felt for five hours today, when you were woke for just a little bit, that was every day of the life of people of color, of the one trans boy in your elementary school class, of the people of color that you don’t realize they’re the only one when you walk into the Starbucks.’ That’s our experience all the time every day and you need to sit with that discomfort and acknowledge it.”
Liane Hernandez, community outreach and education director at YWCA of Southern Arizona, said they have a Southern Arizona Hate Crimes Task Force that meets monthly to discuss hate crimes and solutions to these crimes with the Islamic Center of Tucson, Southern Arizona Gender Alliance and other organizations in the community.
The task force was reinvigorated after the presidential election in November when community members reached out via Facebook and the YWCA organized an event called We Stand Together.
The We Stand Together campaign is like the Safe Places campaign for LGBTQ+. By displaying the We Stand Together symbol, victims of hate crime can recognize the symbol and know that the business or individual carrying the symbol can provide them with a safe space and protect them.
To report a hate driven crime call the police or fill out a form for the Tucson Police Department on the City of Tucson website at https://www.tucsonaz.gov/apps/crime-reporting/crime-reports/bias .