7 racially motivated offenses reported last year | SteamboatToday.com

7 racially motivated offenses reported last year

Melinda Dudley

Source: FBI Hate Crimes Statistics, 2007; Graphic: Allison Miriani

— Despite its small population, Steamboat Springs ranked in the top five Colorado cities for reported hate crimes in 2007, according to FBI statistics released last week.

Seven hate crimes were reported in Steamboat Springs last year, all with racial or ethnic biases. Steamboat reported the same number of hate crimes as Colorado Springs – which has more than 40 times the population, according to figures used by the FBI.

The FBI defines hate crimes as those motivated in whole or in part by a bias against the victim’s perceived race, religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation or disability.

Out of participating Colorado municipalities, only Denver, Boulder and Fort Collins reported more hate crimes than Steamboat in 2007 – 24, 10 and 8, respectively.

But the numbers do not necessarily tell the story, Steamboat Springs Police Capt. Joel Rae said.

“Obviously, society today is not tolerant of hate crimes. We’re not tolerant of it. The community as a whole is not tolerant of it,” Rae said. “That’s why we have legislation against it.”

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Rae also noted the likelihood that more bias-motivated crimes go on across the state than are included in the FBI’s figures.

“It is my belief that we are reporting hate crimes correctly and that other jurisdictions are probably not,” Rae said.

More than 80 Colorado municipalities reported zero hate crimes to the FBI in 2007.

The biases behind hate crimes often are the result of a lack of understanding, and the best way to fix that is through first-hand experience, Integrated Community Executive Director Tatiana Achcar said.

“I’m a true believer in grassroots, community-based activities,” Achcar said. “When you get to know your neighbors on a first-name basis, and the experience goes from general to specific : that breaks down bias and stereotypes.”

“People need to understand each others’ differences and similarities,” Achcar said.

No hate crimes on the basis of religion, sexual orientation or disability were reported in Steamboat in 2007 – or thus far in 2008.

“People think of (hate crimes) as just people of color and people with accents. It’s not,” Achcar said.

However, incidents with a racial bias were by far the most common in Steamboat and across the state, according to the FBI’s statistics.

Of the seven bias incidents reported in Steamboat Springs in 2007, five were anti-black. The other two were minor assault cases, one against a Hispanic man, and the other a case where a Central American man was targeted by four Hispanic men.

Rae said three of the five anti-black incidents in 2007 were reports of harassment and intimidation by a student at Steamboat Springs High School, Rae said.

On Jan. 10, student Randall Nelson was found not guilty of assault and disorderly conduct charges. While the two were in middle school, the other boy allegedly had been taunting and threatening Randall because he was black.

According to enrollment figures for the 2007-08 school year, 91.7 percent of students in the Steamboat Springs School District are white.

Earlier this year, a Steamboat man was sentenced in connection with the racially motivated stabbing of a black man at Sunpie’s Bistro during the summer of 2007.

Christopher Allen Hamm, who is white, stabbed Alfred Turner in the thigh at the Yampa Street bar July 6, 2007, after telling him to “leave our white women alone.”

In May 2008, Hamm pleaded no contest to felony charges of second-degree assault and bias-motivated crime. His sentence included 90 days in jail, four years of unsupervised probation, 68 hours of community service, and $1,400 in restitution and lost wages to Turner.

Biases, racism and discrimination exist in all communities, and “putting on a lid on it” is not the answer, Achcar said. Diverse experiences are the key to change, she said.

“We all have biases – that’s the bottom line,” Achcar said. “It’s about how willing you are to recognize them, how open you are to change.”