In applying the term ‘hate crime,’ are we hanging two troubled young people out to dry?

BRATTLEBORO — As we all know, a violent act took place on Elliott Street recently. Local news agencies and social/racial justice activists have reported it as a “hate crime.”

The charge of a hate crime is a pretty significant charge and shouldn't be taken lightly. But the question that keeps coming up for me was, is this really a hate crime? One online dictionary defines “hate crime” as “one motivated by racial, sexual, or other prejudice, typically one involving violence.”

How could this crime have been motivated or inspired by race when it was merely the result of the victim being at the wrong place at the wrong time?

It makes me question the facts of an otherwise horrible situation.

I'm not diminishing the terror of this event; however, it was not a racially motivated event. The young woman being charged with a hate crime is also a woman of color, and after looking at all three Facebook pages of the male assailant I couldn't find a single racist inclination. This was a violent crime.

Right now with the Black Lives Matter movement, a heated topic in our communities and with our police, maybe we should ask ourselves: Are we creating a witch hunt and hanging two troubled young people out to dry?

Let's be clear: Using a racial slur as an insult during a violent attack does not necessarily constitute a hate crime. Violently attacking somebody because of their race is a hate crime.

If we're going to be a progressive community inside this movement and take it seriously, we need to accurately discern what distinguishes a hate crime from a violent crime.

This phrase is now being thrown around lightly. Some people in town have expressed many of these same thoughts and concerns, yet they don't feel as if they are allowed to speak, mostly due to their being white.

When someone of color is unequivocally the victim of a hate crime, that needs to be taken very seriously. It's crucial that we educate those of us inside of our movement on what this language actually means, so that we act with integrity in our fight for racial equity and justice. Otherwise, we risk diminishing the stories of black and brown people and our entire movement.

As a member of a family of color, I hope people will take time to mull these words over and know that these words are being shared with you out of respect for my own family and other families in this community.

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