Our Youth: Responding to Hate Crimes, Hate Speech, and Harassment – By Marc Brenman

As I write this, the United States has very recently elected a President who has been accused of racism, xenophobia, misogyny, homophobia, ablism and anti-Semitism. These qualities have been likened to fascism. A number of the groups and individuals who supported the candidate were openly white Suprematist and/or neo-Nazi. Since the election, there has been an outbreak of hate crimes, hate incidents, hate speech, and harassment against those in traditionally discriminated against groups. These range from violent crimes to simple gloating and misapprehension of what supporters voted for. The Southern Poverty Law Center has recorded over 700 hate incidents as of November 18, 2016.


Many people who did not vote for the candidate, or who didn’t vote and yet harbor strong negative feelings for him, are wondering what they should do. The feeling is that something needs to be done. Some ponder and worry, some demonstrate in the streets and hold up signs, some high school students have walked out of class and school. Many of those on the political right don’t want to be demonized, even though they just finished a political campaign in which they demonized the opposing candidate. It is true that the experienced researcher of far right wing groups, Paul de Armond, has observed that most of the people who show up for extreme right wing meetings are perfectly all right. He notes, “They’re in the process of getting bamboozled…they’re running with some bad company, but they aren’t any more misinformed than the rest of the country.” However, there is an association with hate crimes.

What is a hate crime?

Hate crimes are message crimes, according to Dr. Jack McDevitt, a criminologist at Northeastern University in Boston. They are different from other crimes in that the offender is sending a message to members of a certain group that they are unwelcome in a particular neighborhood, community, school, or workplace.

The FBI definition is as follows:

“A criminal offense committed against the person or property which is motivated, in whole or in part, by the offenders bias against race, religion, sexual orientation group, or ethnicity/national origin.”

Hate crimes are not separate, distinct crimes, but any criminal offense that is motivated by the offender’s racial, religious, ethnic, or sexual orientation bias. Hate crime is a legal term that describes criminal acts motivated by prejudice.

Youth Programs

  1. Provide alternative, positive messages and activities to groups targeted by haters, such as white teenage boys.
  2. Create moral barriers, to keep out violent, hate-mongering groups. and empower leaders who are willing to speak out, and then have those leaders speak to young people.
  3. Educational counseling programs for young perpetrators of hate crime can help dispel stereotypes, prejudice, fears, and other motivators of hate crime. Counseling may include sessions with members of groups of color and visits to local correctional facilities. In addition, “restorative justice,” the concept of healing both the victim and the offender while regaining the trust of the community, may be appropriate. The offenders are held accountable and are required to repair both the physical and emotional damage caused by their actions.
  4. Provide hate prevention training to all staff, including teachers, administrators, school security personnel, and support staff. All school employees, including teachers, administrators, support staff, bus drivers, and security staff, should be aware of the various manifestations of hate and be competent to address hate incidents.
  5. Training should include anti-bias and conflict resolution methods; procedures for identifying and reporting incidents of racial, religious, and sexual harassment, discrimination, and hate crime; strategies for preventing such incidents from occurring; and resources available to assist in dealing with these incidents.
  6. Ensure that all students receive hate prevention training through age-appropriate classroom activities, assemblies, and other school-related activities. Prejudice and discrimination are learned attitudes and behaviors. Neither is uncontrollable or inevitable. Teaching children that even subtle forms of hate such as ethnic slurs or epithets, negative or offensive name-calling, stereotyping, and exclusion are hurtful and inherently wrong can help to prevent more extreme, violent manifestations of hate. Through structured classroom activities and programs, children can begin to develop empathy, while practicing the critical thinking and conflict resolution skills needed to recognize and respond to various manifestations of hate behavior.
  7. Develop partnerships with families, community organizations, and law enforcement agencies. Hate crime prevention cannot be accomplished by schools alone. School districts are encouraged to develop partnerships with parent groups, youth serving organizations, criminal justice agencies, victim assistance organizations, businesses, advocacy groups, and religious organizations. These partnerships can help identify resources available to school personnel to address hate incidents, raise community awareness of the issue, ensure appropriate responses to hate incidents, and ensure that youth receive a consistent message that hate-motivated behavior will not be tolerated.
  8. Develop a hate prevention policy to distribute to every student, every student’s family, and every employee of the school district. An effective hate prevention policy will promote a school climate in which racial, religious, ethnic, gender and other differences, as well as freedom of thought and expression, are respected and appreciated. The policy should be developed with the input of parents, students, teachers, community members, and school administrators. It should include a description of the types of behavior prohibited under the policy; the roles and responsibilities of students and staff in preventing and reporting hate incidents or crimes; the range of possible consequences for engaging in this type of behavior; and locations of resources in the school and community where students can go for help. It should respect diverse viewpoints, freedom of thought, and freedom of expression. Every student should be informed of the contents of the school district’s policy on hate crime on an annual basis.
  9. Develop a range of corrective actions for those who violate school hate-prevention policies. School districts are encouraged to take a firm position against all injurious manifestations of hate, from ethnic slurs, racial epithets, and taunts, to graffiti, vandalism, discrimination, harassment, intimidation, and violence. They can develop a wide range of nondisciplinary corrective actions to respond to incidents, including counseling, parent conferences, community service, awareness training, or completion of a research paper on an issue related to hate, as well as disciplinary actions such as in-school suspension or expulsion. School officials should be prepared to contact local, state or federal civil rights officials to respond to more serious incidents and, in cases involving criminal activity or threat of criminal activity, should call the police.
  10. Collect and use data to focus district-wide hate prevention efforts. Collection of data on the occurrence of school-based hate incidents or crimes will help administrators and teachers to identify patterns and more effectively implement hate prevention policies and programs. To obtain such data, school districts may include questions regarding hate crime on surveys they conduct on school crime and discipline, as well as collect and analyze incident-based data on specific hate incidents and crimes. In the latter case, school districts are encouraged to work closely with local law enforcement personnel to collect uniform and consistent data on hate crime.
  11. Provide structured opportunities for integration. Young people can begin to interact across racial and ethnic lines through school-supported organizations and activities. Multi-ethnic teams of students can work together on community service projects, to organize extracurricular events, or to complete class projects. High school students can participate in service-learning projects in which they tutor, coach, or otherwise assist younger students from diverse backgrounds.
    (http://www.ed.gov/pubs/HateCrime/page5.html; Preventing Youth Hate Crime (US Department of Education)
  12. Encourage communities to launch educational efforts aimed at dispelling minority stereotypes, reducing hostility between groups, and encouraging broader intercultural understanding and appreciation. It is important that school administrators, school boards, and classroom teachers confront harassment and insults to those who are different from the dominant group. Anti-bias teaching should start in early childhood and continue through high school.
  13. Teachers must also know that they have the backing of administrators and school board members to intervene against incidents of bias whether inside the school or on the playground.
    School and police officials should work together to develop a plan to handle hate crimes and defuse racial tensions. Hate crimes can be school-related, and officials should consider prevention and response roles, identify potential trouble sites, and plan for phased police intervention. Tension can be eased by regular communication with parents, students, media, and other community organizations. Mediation and conflict resolution classes develop the capacity of young people to peacefully settle disputes and conflicts.
  14. Counter Dehumanization and ask what is the moral thing to do?

Compassionate Witnessing

Witnessing is founded on an ability to recognize and express a common bond with another person. Compassionate witnessing helps us recognize our shared humanity, restore our sense of common humanity when it falters, and block our dehumanizing others. Dehumanization justifies a wide range of negative emotions ranging including disgust, rage, and terror. Seeing oneself as victim, witness or perpetrator fosters awareness and resilience.


In the immediate aftermath of societal traumas, this work is vital. Many experts point to acknowledging and mourning losses as essential to the interruption of cycles of violence (Botcharova, 2001; Kogan, 2000; Volkan, 1997)…this is not easy to do, either for individuals or societies. In the aftermath of societal violence, people are left with intense emotions of fear and rage, hatred and humiliation.

Young people in articular must be helped through these charged emotional states. Denying the depth of the pain and the loss, as a short-term solution to the complexity of the realities they now face. Failure to adequately to mourn losses and to work through the suffering does not heal. Past traumas are likely to be repeated. This is as true for societies and nations as it is for individuals.

Marc Brenman

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