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The Enigma Of Hate Crime

Sandy Huffaker/AFP/Getty Images

Mourners participate in a candlelight vigil for the victims of the Chabad of Poway Synagogue shooting at the Rancho Bernardo Community Presbyterian Church on April 27, 2019 in Poway, Calif.

We’re at an odd and difficult time right now when hate and the violence that comes with it is a growing trend. It’s true nationally. It’s true in Nevada.

The FBI says hate crimes surged by 17 percent from 2017 to 2018

Last weekend, a gunman attacked congregants at a synagogue near San Diego. One woman was killed. Three others were injured.

In March, two students at Arbor View High School in Clark County were arrested after they posted on Instagram photos of African-American students along with racist threats.

Akiko Cooks' 15-year-old son was one of the students targeted by the posts. She said a family member sent them the pages featuring the posts. Cooks said her son was surprised by the hate coming from his fellow classmates, who he didn't even know.

"My son said, 'because I'm black, they want to kill me?' And he couldn't understand that," Cooks said.

She told KNPR's State of Nevada that she had to explain to him that it is the world that he lives in. She said her family has always lived in a diverse neighborhood and she as always taught them to love everyone. 

After this incident, she had to explain to her son that not everyone teaches that lesson.

"He said, 'I'm 15. I'm a kid. I want to play video games!' I said, I understand that but now you know that some people raise their children with hate," she said.

Cooks was in the court when the two boys were sentenced. She said they didn't seem remorseful until the sentencing hearing. Cooks said the boys had claimed it started as a joke. 

"I don't see and I don't think anyone sees anything funny about Columbine or cleansing hallways or murder," she said, "So, that didn't sit well with us as far as accountability. This can't start as a joke. It's not a joking matter."

Both boys were sentenced to nine months at a juvenile facility diversion program. 

Cooks said the families of the students who were targeted also asked that the boys and their families go through cultural diversity classes. She said she's not satisfied with the sentence but the boys deserve a second chance and a chance to be rehabilitated. 

Katrina Sandigo is the education director for the Anti-Defamation League. She has conducted training at Arbor View High School in the wake of the boys' threats.

The ADL did anti-bias education for all the teachers in the school and offered training for any parents who were interested.

"A lot of what we do is about having the conversation," she said, "So bridging that gap of having an uncomfortable conversation around race, around gender, around the otherisms that exist in our world today."

She said hate is learned but it can be unlearned as well. Sandigo said parents aren't the only influence in a child's life and it is important to have open conversations early and often so kids have the right foundation 

Those other influences in a child's life can come from places parents may not even know about. 

Pete Simi is an associate professor at Chapman University in Orange, California. He studies extremist groups and has written books about hatred.

He said extremists are targeting people on gaming platforms and parents don't even realize it.

"Some of these gaming platforms, for example, it's video games what's the harm in that?" Simi said, "On some of this video gaming platforms are actual extremists trolling these spaces and planting seeds so to speak."

He said parents should absolutely be monitoring what their children are doing on social media and online. Simi said society considers knowing who your children are hanging out with as good parenting practices then knowing their activities online should also be considered good parenting.

Simi said the push through gaming platforms and social media is all part of an effort launched following the election of President Barack Obama for extremists to "infiltrate" regular society.

For example, he said skinheads grew out their hair and stopped getting racist tattoos all with the eye of sending out their messages of hate from within normal society.

Capt. Christopher Tomaino with Las Vegas Metro Police agreed. He said people who hold extremist and white supremest beliefs are now able to find each other in online chatrooms and on social media channels much easier.

"Because of that double-edged sword of the internet that brings us so much information, we have people that are now able to quickly identify one another and likeminded pursuits and sometimes we're talking about hate-based speech where they coalesce around each other and reinforce each other's beliefs and then it becomes a self-sustaining bit of momentum."

Tomaino said people get self-radicalized by others online echoing back their opinions.

Sandigo said one of the best ways to combat hate is by confronting when you hear it.

"I think as a city, as a community we all have to come together to call out hate on a regular basis," she said, "So when we do see those things whether it's under the surface or otherwise confronting it in a safer fashion."

Akiko Cooks, mother, Arbor View High School student; Katrina Sandigo, Education Director, Anti-Defamation League; Christopher Tomaino, Captain, Las Vegas Metropolitan Police/ Director of the Southern Nevada Terrorism Center; Pete Simi, Associate Professor, Director of the Earl Babbie Research Center at Chapman University



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Since June 2015, Fred has been a producer at KNPR's State of Nevada.