Friday, February 1, 2019

Jussie Smollet's Attack Is A Hate Crime

It is not a new phenomenon that when a crime occurs there are some people who comment, blog, or analyze who are accused of rushing to judgment and others that are accused of being too slow to respond.  While some people have questions about what may occurred, when a crime hits the media, the results effect society.  In an effort to tap the break and see what has developed I held off on immediately hitting "publish" on my Jussie Smollet blog.  But, I can't hold off anymore because there is a point that needs to be made.  And, that is words matter.  Words matter to survivor's  mental health outcomes.  Words matters to those who are considering to report. 

CNN, The New York Times, and other news outlets conveniently repeated the Chicago P.D.’s press statement referring to the attack on Jussie Smollett as a “possible hate crime." Seriously? Possible? If the facts as reported are accurate— “that Jussie Smollet was attacked early Tuesday morning by two people who yelled racial and homophobic slurs and wrapped a rope around his neck” then there is no doubt that this is a hate crime.  I understand in these days of unprecedented scrutiny of words that terms like “alleged” and “potential” make people feel they have legal cover, but what about the need to say things like they are for the sake of the victims and for the benefit of society at large?

According to The National Coalition of Antiviolence (NCAV), hate crimes are on the rise and yet reporting of them is on the decline. Could this be because the police, the press, and therefore, society, refer to these blatant attacks against people of color, those who identify or seem to identify as LGBTQ, or express themselves as something other than the norm, are being labeled as "alleged,"  "possible" or "suspected" hate crimes?  The FBI defines a hate crime as a “criminal offense against a person or property motivated in whole or in part by an offender’s bias against a race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, ethnicity, gender, or gender identity.”  In other words crime + motivation of hate bias = hate crime. In Smollet’s case attack + racial and homophobic slurs = hate crime. 

Words matter. Just as the words spewed at Smollet as he was attacked give insight to the crime committed, the words that reporters, the public, and the police use matter in how survivors feel, report, participate in prosecution, and recover.  According to the NCAV, “For survivors of hate violence, being targeted because of who they are and how they express themselves has long-term emotional, social, financial, physical, and other consequences. One study found that survivors of hate violence experience depression, anxiety, anger, and fear for up to five years after their experience, compared to only two years for survivors of non-bias motivated attacks.”  Could these negative impacts be compounded by words like alleged, suspected, and possible?  No better way than to discredit the very real experiences of victims than to throw words that justify, mitigate, or even negate their attack. If we care about the mental health of victims and survivors and want to hold people accountable for their atrocious behavior, the police, reporters, and the public need to speak plainly, without throwing in qualifying words that diminish the experience of the victim.