Scott Tibbs
Hoosier Review, August 18, 2003

Back to opinion page.

"Hate Incidents Report" does not indicate a crisis

The Bloomington Human Rights Commission released its 2003 Hate Incidents Report on August 6. It details 23 bias-motivated incidents from July 2002 through June 2003. In the same period a year earlier, 17 incidents were reported. According to the Herald-Times, the types of incidents in the report include:
  • Twelve incidents of verbal abuse.
  • One incident of verbal abuse and shoving, but with no injury.
  • Six incidents of verbal abuse with injuries.
  • Two incidents of vandalism.
  • Two incidents of arson.
The targeted groups in these incidents are broken down as follows:
  • Seven involved blacks and whites.
  • Six seemed to be motivated by bias against homosexuals or people perceived to be homosexuals.
  • Five featured people of other ethnicities being targeted.
  • Four involved Muslims or people perceived to be Muslim.
  • One was anti-Catholic.
The obvious first question to be raised is: why a report on bias-motivated incidents? Bloomington is a city of 69,000 people. In a city of that size, there are incidents on a daily basis of people being uncivil to each other. What is it about incivility motivated by bias that is special? Are these incidents somehow worse than verbal abuse, physical abuse or property destruction where the motivation is something other than bias based on the characteristics of the person targeted? A quick scan of the Police Beat archives over the last month at turned up one home being ransacked, 4 cases of intimidation, 6 assaults, one case of sexual misconduct, one case of a handgun being pointed at someone, and one case of peeping. A more thorough search over the last year would show many more such incidents. What is it about bias-motivated incidents that are worse than the ones mentioned here?

If two people are assaulted, one because of his race and one as a random attack, why should the victim chosen for his race be given special attention in a report put out by city government? Is the second assault victim somehow less important? The answer, of course, is no. What the Hate Incidents Report does is lift some victims above others based on their group affiliation. The answer to such incidents is not to separate people who are harassed or assaulted into various groups, but to make it clear that Bloomington residents are to be treated with respect regardless of race, religion, national origin, and so forth.

The focus of the Herald-Times article is telling. Only four of these incidents involved "Muslims or people perceived to be Muslim", but it was those incidents that made up the majority of the article. Incidents involving blacks and whites or homosexuals both outnumber the incidents involving Muslims. Why the focus on Muslims? While there were some disturbing incidents of harassment and assault against Muslims after September 11, this report does not indicate a major problem. Considering that incidents based on other races or on homosexuality outnumber incidents involving Muslims, It appears that the Herald-Times was trying to create news instead of reporting the news. This report certainly does not merit front-page coverage.

The title of the report should cause those who value freedom to take a second look. It is not titled the hate crimes report, but the hate incidents report. The fact that one of the "incidents" reported was of someone passing out anti-Muslim leaflets is disturbing. Is free speech now to be included in a report by city government? Even if the leaflets were "hateful" or "offensive", it marginalizes real harassment to include leafleting with assault.

This is not the first example of an arm of city government disrespecting the right to free speech. The "Commission on the Status of Black Males" had a letter to the editor published last February denouncing the decision to run a controversial editorial cartoon. While it is within reason for members as individuals to oppose the choice to publish the cartoon, it is inexcusable for an arm of city government to publicly dress down a member of the community for his choice of material to run on the student newspaper's opinion page.

What is the purpose of this report? Twenty-three incidents is in the context of a much larger overall number of similar incidents is hardly an epidemic of bias-motivated harassment or assault. This appears to be a political ploy to placate the Left. The City Council should re-examine the mandate of the Human Rights Commission and make sure all city departments, boards and commissions operate under the principles enshrined in the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Furthermore, the City Council and the Mayor should make it clear to all city departments, boards and commissions that First Amendment rights are sacred and must be respected. In this "safe and civil city", freedom of speech must always be safe from any action of government. The Human Rights Commission should also recognize that "civility" includes treating everyone the same without regard to differences, not elevating any one group above another.