Mesa community forum focuses on hate crimes - East Valley Tribune: News

Mesa community forum focuses on hate crimes

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Posted: Monday, May 12, 2008 11:35 pm | Updated: 9:07 pm, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

 Is the Valley a breeding ground for malicious hate crimes? In light of controversial immigration sweeps and two teens brutalized for their religion, many believe so.

Is the Valley a breeding ground for malicious hate crimes?

In light of controversial immigration sweeps and two teens brutalized for their religion, many believe so.

To educate the community on the nature of hate crimes and victimization, the Mesa Police Department hosted a community forum Monday night in response to recent hate crimes. Presenters from the Phoenix Anti-Defamation League and the East Valley NAACP spoke about hate crime laws and incidents of prejudice in the Valley.

Bill Strauss of the Anti-Defamation League told an audience of about 60 Mesa residents that he was alarmed by recent events.

“I’m scared to death of what might happen in Arizona,” Strauss said, voicing his concern over mounting conflict and animosity toward Hispanics in light of the illegal immigration debate, as well as an underlying prejudice toward Mormons exhibited by the recent attack of two teens.

“This is America; this isn’t supposed to happen here. This is the legacy we have been left with — unfortunately it is oftentimes not true,” said Strauss.

Strauss spoke of the attack on two Mormon teenagers earlier this month and commended Mesa authorities for their outspoken opposition to the crime, and their pursuit and capture of the two teenagers believed responsible for the attack.

“I immediately spoke up when I heard about the incident with LDS,” Mesa police Chief George Gascón told those in attendance at the meeting inside the Mesa Public Safety Training Facility.

In the hate crime case of the two teenage perpetrators, police said the suspects had carved swastikas into their wrists. The teens are accused of attacking two Mormon teenagers with pellet guns and beating them, sending one of them to the hospital.

According to Strauss, blacks, Jews, and gays and lesbians constitute the largest percentage of those victimized by hate crimes. A majority of the hate crimes are manifested in the destruction or vandalism of property. There were 254 incidents reported in 2003 involving hate crimes, according to statistics from the Arizona Department of Public Safety.

Strauss said the number of hate crimes is far greater, but many incidents are never reported to police. Reporting incidents to authorities and speaking out against discrimination and defamation are some ways that communities can help defeat malicious crimes, he said.

“It seems to me more crimes against property are tied to religious beliefs, and physical crimes against a person are often due to race and sexual orientation,” Strauss said.

Hate crimes, according to the Anti-Defamation League, are criminal offenses against a person or property, motivated wholly or in part by an individual’s race, religion, ethnic/national origin, sexual orientation, gender or disability.

According to DPS, the Mesa and Phoenix police departments deal with the greatest number of hate-related crimes.

Presenter Terrea Arnwine, vice president of the East Valley NAACP, spoke of the history of hate crimes and the origins of the NAACP.

Arnwine advised community members to report and document all instances in which they were victims of hate crimes or prejudice.

Both Strauss and Arnwine were presented with recognition awards by the East Valley NAACP for their contribution to the community forum.

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