Call It What It Is
If you can’t make out the scrawled graffiti just above the drinking fountain, it reads, “whites only.” And yes, it is surrounded by swastikas. Also discovered, a picture of Hitler, racial slurs directed at Blacks and Latinos, and the words “gas chamber.”
Not in Europe in the 1930s or 40s. But at Calabasas High School. This past week.
The perpetrators, three 11th grade students at the high school, have confessed. Motive? They felt that they had been “mistreated” by some teachers and fellow students. The superintendent of the Los Virgenes Unified School District says that these “are just angry kids who made a poor choice.” And these poor choice makers have, according to all accounts, expressed their remorse. In addition to suspension and reimbursement for damages, they are being charged with felony vandalism.
I am not certain how an act of vandalism that was comprised of racial epithets and images of institutional hate does not qualify as a hate crime. The answer, according to the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department:
The words and symbols were not focused on one ethnicity or religion. They included words and symbols that are anti-Semitic, as well as racial insults against African-Americans, and profanities directed at specific students and teachers who had upset them.
Based on the statements of the subjects and the content of their graffiti vandalism, their intent was to upset the people they felt had wronged them, rather than a criminal hate crime.
Words have meaning, as do symbols. The reason that these words and these symbols were selected by a trio of “just angry kids” is because, and not in spite, of their potency. By not labeling this incident as a hate crime, there is no reason for anyone to think that it is not OK to choose these particular, hate-filled words and symbols. And. if they follow the logic presented by the Sheriff’s Department, the more groups simultaneously victimized, the less likely it is to be defined by what it is.
UPDATE (as of 15:30): The three suspects are now being charged with committing felony vandalism with a hate crime enhancement. More information here.