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The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman

The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

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    Are We Recycling Hate?

    On Nov. 14, panelist member Rabbi Steven Moss, chair of Suffolk County Human Rights Commission, suggested to Stony Brook University students at a panel presentation called “Hate Crimes: Seeking Solutions for Communities,” that they should form their own anti-bias task force on campus.

    This was one of many suggestions and ideas that were introduced and discussed by the six panelist members, including the event’s creators, Dr. Joan Kuchner, director, Child and Family Studies, and faculty member, Anne Raybin, and the nearly 80 students, faculty, staff and community members present.

    The university’s Assistant Professor of Psychology, Dr. Bonita London, captured the attention of the audience by describing a method of exploring racism that was developed in Iowa in 1968 by Jane Elliott, an American teacher and anti-racism activist, called, “The Blue Eyes/Brown Eyes Exercise.”

    Elliott divided her third grade class by a physical feature that people can not control, eye color. She appointed one group as superior and the other group as inferior. She reversed the roles the next day. The result of this two-day exercise was a daring lesson in the meaning of discrimination. It was an example of damages caused by labeling.

    London approached the discussion from a psychosocial perspective. She said that children’s performance in class will decline because of the negative impact associated with labeling. “As individuals, as humans, we have a tendency to draw lines and label people,” London said.

    She said that lines are drawn with the expectations people have of others and the fundamental need and desire that people have to belong to a group, “it may escalate into something beyond fitting in.” Competing for a group can be frustrating and could lead people to act out and this is when they start “engaging in aggressive actions toward an out-group,” London said.

    A way of reducing the discriminatory and prejudiced mentality is by having “an overarching super ordinate group,” London suggested. She said we must stop viewing those who seem different, negatively, and move forward in a practical manner.

    Students were stunned to learn that Long Island’s Suffolk County is the third most segregated region in the United States; the first two regions belong to Michigan. To help deal with this surprising statistic is Rabbi Steven Moss.

    Moss, who has served the B’nai Israel Reform Temple in Oakdale since 1972, is also the founder and director of Islip’s anti-bias task force, STOPBIAS. It is an educational program for bias crimes offenders, particularly juveniles. “The overwhelming majority of biased crimes in Suffolk County are committed by ages 15-19,” Moss said.

    Suffolk County is made up of ten towns. With the exception of Shelter Island, Moss said, nine towns now have an anti-bias task force. These organizations address the offender, their parents and people of the same nature as the victim. “A community is assaulted even when just one person is,” Moss said.

    Moss recommended that people should become proactive by checking for programs available in their local schools that address the unfortunate issue of hate. If a program does not exist, then implement one. He said that people must be vigilant about the goings-on of their community. “Every one of us can be part of a positive reaction and solution to bias crimes,” Moss said.

    There to explain hate crimes from an Islamic point of view was the Chair of Brookhaven Anti-Bias Task Force and President of Islamic Association of Long Island, Nayyar Imam. He spoke about the labeling of Muslims. He said that as a group they must teach others about their culture. “Hate and bias started from ignorance,” Imam said.

    No one sees more hate, bias and ignorance than the police. There are seven full-time Suffolk County Detectives working on eleven categories of hate crimes. Commanding Officer of the Hate Crimes Bureau for the Suffolk County Police Department, Detective Sergeant Robert Reecks, is one of them. He was able to speak about the legal aspect of it. “Hate crimes in Suffolk County are taken very seriously,” Reecks said.

    A hate crime is considered an E-Class felony. Burning a cross in public is now an E-Class felony, Reecks said. It used to be considered a freedom of expression. And a person can get up to four years in jail for drawing a swastika, which is commonly known as the emblem of Nazi Germany, another E-Class felony.

    It will soon be known whether a noose will be considered a hate symbol once the New York State Assembly reconvenes in January 2008, Reecks added.

    Assistant Chief of the University Police, Douglas Little, attended the event. As a fellow officer, he wanted to add to Reeck’s concern about hate crimes. Little reassured the crowd that the police would help anyone who was a victim of a hate crime. Both Reeck and Little displayed a take-charge attitude toward the fight against hate crimes. “You wanna commit a crime, we’ll lock you up,” Little said.

    Kuchner then switched the discussion over to the audience who seemed eager to participate, as she was eager to hear their responses. A chosen spokesperson from almost each of the twelve tables shared the ideas of those seated at their table. There were some common-themed suggestions and solutions.

    Early exposure to appropriately tailored education seemed to be the most sought-after recommendation, followed by a crucial demand for parent’s involvement and awareness. The familiar notion presented in the ever-so-popular slogan, “If you see something, say something,” was mentioned. The need for changes in laws also prevailed.

    In the concluding words of Rabbi Steven Moss, “Be creative, have hope.”

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