When Trayvon Martin was killed by George Zimmerman, the loud and immediate accusation was that Martin’s slaying was racially motivated.
While the courts have yet to prove that point, the issue raised by Martin’s death is one that has been a part of American life since its founding. Race relations have become even more scrutinized since the election of the nation’s first Black president which, according to a recent study by the Southern Poverty Law Center, has fostered the creation of more and more hate groups.
Hatred, whether by one race against another, or against a nationality, religious group or homosexuals, is a deeply entrenched aspect of American life and as Martin’s killing seems to indicate, very difficult to root out.
“The only time the nation dealt with the problems of racism was during the Civil Rights Movement — and America was forced to do it then,” said Dr. James Cone, the Charles A. Briggs distinguished professor of systematic theology at Union Theological Seminary. “America is a long way from a post-racial era, and by and large, Americans aren’t ready yet to confront the issues of racism. But if you’ve spent 200 years establishing a way of life, it takes more than 12 years to change it.”
On Friday, April 6, five African Americans were shot in Tulsa, Oklahoma, in an incident law enforcement authorities are investigating to determine if it was racially motivated. Three of the victims, Dannaer Fields, 49; Bobby Clark, 54; and William Allen, 31, died from their wounds. Two more men, Deon Tucker, 44 and David Hall, 46 were wounded. By Sunday, April 8, police had arrested two suspects, Jacob C. England, 19, and Alvin L. Watts, 32. England and Watts randomly shot Black pedestrians in the predominantly Black neighborhoods of North Tulsa, authorities said.
In February 2012, a 13-year-old white boy was assaulted, doused with gasoline and set on fire by two Black teens in Kansas City, Missouri. The victim was walking home from school when he was accosted by two other boys about 3 p.m. The assailants covered the victim in gasoline and ignited him, burning his face and hair. So far, no arrests have been made in the case.
Last month, three white teenagers pleaded guilty to beating an African-American man and then allegedly running over the victim with a pickup truck. Deryl Dedmon, John Aaron Rice and Dylan Butler admitted to conspiracy and violating the 2009 federal hate-crimes law in the killing of James Craig Anderson. They face sentences of up to life in prison. Dedmon admitted that he and a group of white teens were partying when he allegedly suggested they find a Black man to harass. They drove to predominantly Black Jackson, Mississippi, and found Anderson before dawn outside a hotel. He was brutally beaten before Dedmon allegedly ran over him. The entire incident was captured by a nearby surveillance camera.
Hinds County Circuit Judge Jeff Weill Sr. said during the proceedings that Dedmon’s actions have no excuse, and are a stain that will take years to fade.
According to a report recently released by the SPLC, the number of hate promoting groups has grown in the United States in the last couple of years, with 34 groups based in Pennsylvania. California and Texas have the largest number of such groups, with 84 and 45, respectively.
“The radical right grew explosively in 2011, the third such dramatic expansion in as many years,” said Mark Potok, senior fellow and spokesman for the Southern Poverty Law Center. “The growth was fueled by superheated fears generated by economic dislocation, a proliferation of demonizing conspiracy theories, the changing racial makeup of America and the prospect of four more years under a Black president who many on the far right view as an enemy to their country. The truly stunning growth came in the anti-government ‘Patriot’ movement — conspiracy-minded groups that see the federal government as their primary enemy.”
Potok said that over the last few years actual reported hate crimes specifically against Blacks had showed a decline, but the numbers aren’t that accurate.
“The figures put out by the FBI are based on voluntary reporting. Some crimes are not reported, and others are misclassified. We did have a rash of what could be termed as bias incidents following the election of Barack Obama, but 55 to 56 percent of hate crimes are not reported at all,” Potok said. “Again, where we’re seeing a real increase is the number of hate groups, which we do a pretty good job of counting. In 2008, there were 149 Patriot groups, and that number increased to 1,274 by 2011 — that’s a 755 percent increase. It coincides precisely with the election of our first Black president. I think it’s also a response to the economic trends and a sense among these people that ‘this is not the country my white forefathers built.’ There’s a really serious discomfort.”