Forum Gathers Various Views on Hate Crimes

By Mike Glenn
El Paso Times, 5/13/98, B-1

It is the assailant who actually defines what a hate crime is, say people who work in the human rights field.

"It's based on motivation, and that motivation is hate," said Ed Arellano Jr. with the anti-violence group Project Change El Paso.  "It's very difficult to assess and difficult to prove."

If a person is attacked because of variables including sex, race, ethnicity or sexual orientation, then that is a hate crime, Arellano said.

Project Change had the first of what are expected to be several forums Tuesday night at Memorial Park Senior Citizens Center to get more feedback from the community about individual experiences.

"We wanted to give different communities the opportunity to give their perspective," Arellano said. Different parts of El Paso have a different nature of hate crime problems."

After forums have concluded, a committee from Project Change will issue a report summarizing its findings and will make public its plan to deal with hate crimes in the community, Arellano said.

About 20 people from Central El Paso attended the meeting to hear from a panel of representatives groups as diverse as the Border Rights Coalition, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the gay and lesbian rights group Lambda.

Ouisa Davis, an audience member who works with migrant workers, said she has not been the victim of any hate crime but has felt discrimination.

"I'm mixed.  My dad is white and my mom is black, so I've gotten it from both sides," Davis said. "I've experienced some form of discrimination from an individual in every ethnic group."

The Rev. J.M. Washington, of the El Paso NAACP chapter, said El Paso needs to know that hate crimes are on the rise: "There are a lot of people who do not know they are a victim."

Rob Knight, of Lambda, said his organization has tracked a steady rise in violence directed toward gays and lesbians in El Paso over the years.

"Within the last five years, we've seen a dramatic increase in anti-gay violence in schools," Knight said. "We've had incidents of teachers assaulting their students because of their sexual orientation."

Although the panel was created to solicit examples of hate crime suffered by audience members, none was given Tuesday by the sparse crowd that showed up at the center, at 1800 Byron.

"I wonder it this (forum) missed its point or missed its audience," Northeast resident Joe Meyer asked. "This group is so small that I'm guessing that a lot of people didn't know about it."

If Tuesday's forum causes one person to refuse to be a victim of a hate crime, then it was a success, Davis said.

"People are talking about all of this that's going on," Davis said. "We just need to be more loving to one another."