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.
A Latina resident of Phoenix stepped up to the microphone, her voice cracking, nearly tearful. “Why do they hate us?” she began. “That’s what my seven and eight-year-old niece and nephew—who have been in this country all their lives—ask me when they hear what people say about immigrants here in Arizona.” The woman spoke to Patchogue, NY Mayor Paul Pontieri in a packed theater in February, following a screening of Not In Our Town: Light in the Darkness. Pontieri was sharing his experience during the aftermath of the hate crime killing of Marcelo Lucero and attacks on local immigrants in 2008. He spoke with compassion and conviction about the need to dampen dehumanizing rhetoric against immigrants, most especially because of its effects on children and young people. Pontieri was formerly a middle school assistant principal.