Don’t Ignore the Hate Crime

In the aftermath of the tragedy at Columbine High School in

Colorado, a search for meaning and understanding has begun. Concerned citizens across the

nation are seeking to grasp what motivated at least two students to turn a normal school

day into a killing field. Clearly, the answer is complicated and may never be fully known.

In this bewilderment, unfortunately, many parents, students, school officials, and police

authorities have chosen to dangerously downplay the racial, and indeed, fascist,

undertones of the incident.

There appears to be a multitude of reasons why the killers went on

their deadly rampage. Taunted by fellow students, living as outcasts, immersion in a

cult-like existence, a hatred festered and grew that ultimately manifested in the worst

way possible. While an immediate explanation of the targeting of athletes, who reportedly

teased and harassed the two known assailants, may help explain (though in no uncertain

terms excuse) their being gunned down, a more disturbing and serious assessment must be

made of the racial targeting.

Students reported that shooters Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold

expressively made racist remarks during their killing spree and stated they were going

after students of color among others. As they reportedly gleefully sought victims, one

killer stated, "There’s that little nigger son of a bitch right there," and then

coldly murdered black victim Isaiah Shoels.

This dimension of the incident is all the more frightful when placed

in the context of a record of racial and fascist behavior on the part of some members of

the so-called Trench Coat Mafia. These students often used the Nazi salute, shouted

"Heil Hitler," and sported swastikas. Yet, the desire to ignore the implications

of this behavior is stark. In perhaps the most reductionist effort to downplay these

elements, the Washington Post noted that it was a remarkable coincidence that the

slaughter occurred on the anniversary of Hitler’s birthday. As evidence has come to show,

far from chance, the calculated plotting of this massacre was in synch with the annual

celebration of Hitler’s birthday by fascists everywhere.

Eric Shoels’ father, Michael, reported that his son had gotten into

a racially-driven fight with one of the Trench Coat Mafia members while his daughter,

Cheryl, told him of repeated racist remarks hurled by the same crowd or girls who were

dating Mafia boys. Michael Shoels was correct in stating, "This was a hate


It is a mistake to equate hatred or dislike of athletes (or

cheerleaders or nerds or any other adolescent category) with racism. In a brutal and

purposeful way, Harris and Klebold, at least in part, went on an ethnic cleansing. Teenage

rites of passage should not include the right to publicly, consistently, and physically

attack others because of the color of their skin or their ethnic background. Many of the

surviving students, in their effort to explain away the racial aspects, noted that it was

common for students to hate each other based on a wide range of reasons including racial

and ethnic background. The casualness of this view should give us all pause.

One lesson from this incident, I believe, is to underscore the

necessity of adult vigilance and intervention on questions of intolerance. No one can ever

know if the events at Columbine could have been prevented if parents and school

authorities had been more active in addressing racism at the school. It is clear, however,

that when signals and signs of racism appear, they must be addressed seriously,

forthrightly, and unambiguously.

Congress is considering Hate Crime legislation once again.

Republican Congressmembers continue to refuse to advance the legislation on spurious

grounds despite recent evidence, as provided by the Southern Poverty Law Center, that the

number of racist and fascist groups in the United States is on the rise. The dragging

death of James Bryd, the cruel murder of Matthew Shephard, and the racially-driven police

brutalities and killings in New York, California, and elsewhere, to name a few, demand

that public policy address the growing hate crimes problem. Why has Congress not put as

much energy into a war on hate crimes as it has in the war on drugs?

Young people require guidance and vision. Ideas of intolerance are

reinforced in the popular media, films, music, and other institutions of society. We can

not simple hope that the youthful years of confusion, transition, and experimentation will

turn out for the best. No tolerance for intolerance must also become a part of the


Clarence Lusane, Ph.D. American University-School of International

Service (202) 885-1674 "Chance Favors the Prepared"


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