Defining Hate Crimes (Fronteras) | Not in Our Town

Defining Hate Crimes (Fronteras)


This is a background piece on the meaning of a "hate crime" in the five-part series published by our public media partners at Fronteras.

Defining Hate Crimes

By Jude Joffe-Block

PHOENIX — This week we launch our five-part Fronteras Desk series, The Search For Tolerance. Five reporters in five cities checked on the ways that communities are trying to prevent hate crimes. The stories air on several public radio stations in the Southwest this week.

But as communities work to prevent hate, a question often arises when some form of harassment or discrimination does occur: Was that a hate crime?

During the last few decades, the vast majority of states have added hate crime laws to their books. These statutes allow longer criminal sentences if there is evidence that a crime was motivated by bias.

At a recent town meeting in the Phoenix suburb of Gilbert, concerned residents and the police chief entered into a dialogue about the legal definition of a hate crime.

By Jude Joffe-Block
On July 14 about 50 people rallied in Gilbert, Ariz. in support of a same-sex couple who have been harassed in their home. Whether or not the harassment should be considered a hate crime has been a topic of discussion in the community.

Their discussion focused on the case of Felix Bermea and Roy Messerschmidt, a same-sex couple who recently moved their four foster children to a home in Gilbert, where they say they have been been harassed for the past several months. The couple has reported a break in, a phallic drawing outside their home, repeated knocking on their front door, and a fire set to the bushes on their property line.

"While legally this is not considered a hate crime, in my opinion and in the opinion of a lot of the gay community, it is a hate crime," said concerned citizen Forrest Kruger at a community meeting on July 11. Kruger was one of several people who had heard of the Bermea-Messerschmidt family's situation and felt the Gilbert police were not taking the harassment seriously enough. "These people are being targeted, and they have been terrorized for months now, when does it stop?"

So far, both the local chapter of the Anti-Defamation League and the Gilbert Police Department have said there is not enough information to classify the incident as a hate crime, since the perpetrators haven't been caught, and their intent is still unknown.

"I believe that they believe that they are being targeted because of their sexual orientation," Gilbert Police Chief Tim Dorn responded during the meeting. "If I was in their shoes i would probably think that I was being targeted, too."

The Search For Tolerance
Fronteras: The Changing America Desk has joined forces with Not in Our Town documentary producers to determine how hate affects communities throughout the Southwest and what people are doing about it.
But Dorn went on to say, "We have to determine what the motivation is, we can't go on perception, or opinion."

There is no criminal charge that is a hate crime in Arizona. Instead it is a sentencing enhancer for another crime.

Dorn said his agency is investigating the crimes that occurred at the residence, such as criminal trespass in a residential structure and arson. At a later date if there is evidence that the crimes were motivated by homophobic or racist attitudes, then they could be classified as hate crimes. That would mean the perpetrators could face a longer sentence.

Michael Lieberman, a lawyer for the Anti-Defamation League, explained the rationale for these hate crime laws and accompanying harsher sentences in a 2010 essay in Dissent Magazine. He wrote that while it is best to prevent hate crimes from happening in the first place, "when these crimes do occur, we must send an unmistakable message that they matter, that our society takes them very seriously."

Which explains why emotions can run hot when there is a clash between what community members believe was a hate crime, and the legal definition according to law enforcement.

So far the fact that the recent harassment in Gilbert doesn't necessarily constitute a hate crime isn't preventing a town response. The Arizona Republic reported the town is intensifying its efforts to promote tolerance, and the police department said it would appoint a part-time diversity officer.

Originally posted by Fronteras.


 I feel that, that was wrong no matter what they are people and human beings and they love eachother! That is all that matters I don't care what nobody says. Yes, I'm lesbian and I think that, that is ok! NO MATTER WHAT PEOPLE SAY ABOUT ME!!!!! I have somebody that I love a lot, Her name is Chelsea and she is sweet and she is also a foster child!!! She is 16 and I am 14. I don't know if she lieks me but that doesn't matter. My point is that it doesn't matter she is special to me and I think that I am special to her!!! 

I am a disabled person because of an industrial accident.  I have been deemed permanently disabled by SSDI and Montana State Fund.  I have been living in a neighborhood in Billings Montana in a house that we purchased.  During this time I had a back surgery that caused my right leg to be paralyzed, dead of feeling and function.  I spent a 1 1/2 years dealing with this problem before being able to walk with assistance of either a cane or prosthetic device that I still must use.  During this time frame my neighbors have made comments about the User Class, taker class and other derogatory remarks to my face.  Last year we put up a privacy fence around our property to try to stop the problems we were having.  Now like I said I have been on SSDI and Worker Comp since the back surgery in 2002.  After the installation of the fence, my neighbor stood out in the park screaming at me to get a "F---ing Job" and calling me a "Lazy Bastard".  This was because she was angry that our fence blocked her view across our property.  Since then she has sprayed our home with water trying to flood our property.  This is a continued problem with water because they have been doing it for years with their sprinkler system.  In July I found out that I am under investigation by Montana State Fund.  A doctor that they sent me too.  Told me that one of my neighbors signed a complaint against me saying I am able to go back to work.  I have her threating me on video voice only.  This behavior is still happening every chance they get to do it.  Do you have any suggestions on how to stop this from happening to myself and family. Help! Needed in Billings, Montana.

I personally have never been a target of a hate crime, but, I am friends with people who like the same sex. They have been targets of hate crimes wich ended with one of my friends in the hospital. People are always telling you to be normal and some people tell you to be different. I say everyone needs to be different for the sake of themselves. Without difference we would all be the same and no one wants to act and look exactly like someone else. The absurd actions against people who are different are exactly that absurd. We need to come together and stop Hate crimes. These people who are getting harrased and hurt and are scared to death are our friends our family our neighbors. They are our community, they have fought for us and helped us, they are apart of us. We are still fighting the good fight for equality for justice for rights to be who we are. With help people can be who they are without being judged and it starts with us the next generation. I am only sixteen years old and I say America we need to stop the hate and start with the love.

I've been the victim of many serious violent hate crimes by the Spokane police department just tryin to figure out who I can voice that to and what can b done about it

My family is suppose to be my support because I am transgender. It doesnt matter if someone is African American, Gay , Bi, Straight, Disabled etc. Everyone has a titled to have their own opinion and yes I understand there is freedom of speech but taking crap about someone is not a human being supporting one another is what God whats for us for everyone to be a team and lend a helping hand. Its okay to be different if everyone was the same this world would be very boring. I know that not everyone thinks the same or people believe in more then one god or no god. I support everyone and anyone has their own beliefs in this world. Being mentally abused for being transgender is wrong. IF you dont understand what that means then ask questions I dont mind talking about it. I am very open and proud of who I am. Its not thats a man because of that body part or thats a women because of her body part. Body parts doesnt make the individual who they are as a person. I just was born in the wrong body and I am trying to fix that but everything has to have a dollar sign on it. Happiness exists with how much money you have in your pocket. Wrong way to think!!! Hate Crimes need to stop and people need to mind their own business you dont like the person then walk away and grow up and stop acting like a child. Adulthood is suppose to be when you matured and have goals set for yourself. My family broke me into pieces from what was said about me. I shouldnt have to blame myself for being transgender. IF you have a heart you will accept the gray in the middle instead of seeing black and white. If anyone has any suggestions on how to report a hate crime please let me know. This hatred needs to stop if you had a hard life then get couseling or talk to a close friend. Things can change for the better just look on the bright side I have always been told. Much luv I am here to help others in the LGBTQ community and the homeless eveyone deserves a fresh start even if it happens several times until you get to where you want to be in life.

  i think people should just stop bein selfish and love eachother. some people have problems in their li and ey just go ou and hurt others . god created us but now people just dont care.  i thik people should be happy because they are blessed to be on this eart-world thank you  bye.

I have recently AGAIN been a victim of hate crimes due to my religion. I am proud to be Jewish, but the police aren't doing very much because they say it is difficult to prove that this individual is behind it, even though she has physically attacked me twice as well as been cyber stalking me. Last week she put two swastikas and an anti-Semitic words on my boyfriend's door, and when the police questioned her, asking if she had eyeliner, she said it wasn't done in eyeliner but with black dry-erase marker. And she of course denied doing it, but then how does she know what was used??? I am at my wits end and am scared for both my and my boyfriend's life. I feel all alone.

Being who u are shouldnt be a problem to live in this world because u are as important as anyone in dis world... the cops should listen to da victims point of view ...da should understand wat da victim is sayin if da wer in da same shoes as the victimsz da would do something.....

yes this is good i like.

I manage a apartment. A semi retired white male has made false accusations against my black tenants. First calling her place of work with intent to get her fired. Next the car insurance and registration was taken from the unlocked car and rear plate stolen. The white male was there at the time a police officer pulled the couple over. He is a man who has served the city council and abuses his connections in the police department and city hall. The owner has considered, calling the FBI to investigate on behalf of the tenants hurt by this man. I personally have been so stressed by his threats and a physical confrontation , to the point of being physically ill. I feel scared in my own home now due to threats made against me, the owner, and the property. I'm a wreck, as this man calls and texts me all hours of day and night. I feel he is a wolf in sheep's clothing and dangerous.

I have been verbally attacked, threatened with violence. She has called CPS on myself and the mother of my children. She had threatened me with violence by her boyfriend. She had started a campaign to get my children's mother evicted. She curses in front of my children. I need help. The apartment management has complied with her and slander and libel and defamation of my character. I need an attorney please help me and my family. We were homeless for 16 months. She pays her rent on time. So it's not about late rent. The manager is currently evicting my children due to these false allegations and hatred.

Hate Crime / Verbal Assault in the office 
Your Tour Consultants (a vacation package contracted by WestGate Resorts 
2950 Cypress Road Suite 200 Fort Lauderdale FL. , at work 
This is the first and worse Hate Crime and Verbal Assault of my entire Life and I never cry

at Work Company "your tour consultants" address above , was my first day at a telemarketing company 
IN the office Michael cursed at me and said get away from me , and then said I am trying to get u money for your boy friend (derogatory) , Then he said f word u , then he wanted me to get away from him because I am gay but he is my supervisor one of them , then I went outside the back entrance of the building and all my coworkers were there and a guy named Carl was the leader and so called manager of the employee gang and started curing at me and then calling me the f gay word and then became enraged when I turned my back to get away from him and he ran into my face , nose to nose with raged in his eyes and threatened to kill me , he said I will do it I was in prison I know I can do anything to you I know the law from being in prison , and I was shaking and in fear for my life and in fear of bodily warm if I moved or said anything to defend myself then I walked away from him again and again he repeated the same verbal assault on my person, with gay slurs etc. and threatening to beat the s word out of me and this is all while we are all at work the main manager saw this and walked by and I told him he was threatening me and curing and calling me the f gay word , and he just walked by me and did nothing and went inside , it was a group of about 8 males they were all ganging up on me in the work place , calling me sissy , cry baby , cry like a girl I was getting away from them but they kept coming trying to touch me , I was in fear for my life for about an hour I was forced to leave work cause I was scared and ashamed and had no one to turn to I was all alone . then I went back to the office crying my eyes out and grab my stuff to leave they were all talking and making fun of me with the Manager Eric, and then I was in the hallway confused and I forgot something and they didn't know I could hear them they were all shaming mocking me and making gestures like me derogatory and the slurs and talk continued they didn't expect me back in the room so it took them a minute to stop and then I ran to my car , I was shaking and couldn't see to drive but I was in so much fear for my life I drove out of the parking lot looking for the closes police station but I could not think I was confused and abused so badly for so long I could not find one even though I grow up here. I am afraid for my life , my family , my car ,I texted Kay the General Manager the whole situation , she just said she was sorry . This building inside and out is covered with cameras with mics that are owned by the property management that can be Subpoenaed for court I don't want this to happen to anyone else so I want to bring criminal and civil charges and liability against the offenders and the company , please provide me with attorneys to contact and I will also contact the local media 
I am sorry if my explanation is hard to understand but I am still shaking in fear and crying its hard to see the screen and I fear going to work ever again
Thank you please help

I also Reported this to the FBI and Bill Nelson Florida Senator, and the Human Rights Campaign

What time did this incident occur? 8pm 5/5/2016

Verbal assault called the gay f word and cursing and life threaten

Reporting Violence Helps End Violence.
© AVP 2015
116 Nassau Street, 3rd Floor
New York, NY 10038

I have a group of people whose following me around town abusing their Authority. I have been Sideswipe on more than one occasion. I'm afraid to go places cause it seem like wherever i go im being shadow. I've called my local police twice but i think no report was ever made.

I often wonder police FBI Hud and other agencies seem not to accept the anguish devastating dispeard lost of hope. I ask myself is this one of the reasons we have lone wolf and some people joning isis it's said by watching all the news how some people are resorting to the horrible acts. Please we have to save our deversified country less come together work together and be one united were strong enough to put the greed selfishness prejudice racisim and hostility be hind us


First I just want to say never in wildest dreams did I think I would ever find myself in a situation where 1 big family and their friends sons, daughters, uncle's, aunt's, grandma's,grandpa's, nephew's, niece's, in-laws have been so profoundly abused, disrespected, denied of my rights for my private privacy it's as thou their parents of these types of so called people, their parents never taught this group's members the meaning of respect and decency. I myself have been the target in my neighborhood and what's more I am surrounded that is my home is smack in the middle of all this so called hate they behave towards me. Their so much more to this story. But the worst part them staying they are "police proof". So I think you understand it isn't over yet. I am so scared because these are now the definition of how their children are being taught to from parents. I forgot to say I am a 70 year old woman.

try to help stop hate crimes. please

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