Fighting Hate: Update

TAMPA, Fla. (Sept. 30, 2009) – In a soft tear-drenched voice, Patricia Mulder from Equality Florida declared, “Children shouldn’t have to die because of who they are.” 


Speaking at a panel on the “Victims’ Perspectives” at the University of South Florida’s Hate Crimes Awareness Summit she summed up the purpose of the event, to prevent and someday eliminate hate crimes against anyone. Her son Ryan Skipper was the victim of an anti-gay hate crime. Her story was one of several that shed light on crimes, victims, perpetrators and the broad range of people fighting hate, presented to an audience of invited guests who filled the USF Marshall Student Center Oval Theater Sept. 23. 


This month marks the 40th anniversary of the Florida Commission on Human Relations and in celebration and commemoration, the David C. Anchin Center in the USF College of Education, in collaboration with the USF Diversity & Equal Opportunity Office, and the USF Office of Multicultural Affairs made this event part of its educational series.


“We wanted to create awareness for our students, faculty and community about the prevalence and horror of hate crimes – but along with the knowledge that we can fight back together,” said Donna Elam, chair of the Florida Commission on Human Relations and associate director for program development and external affairs of the Anchin Center. “We gathered some of the most knowledgeable and active people involved with this problem and filled the audience with people who care deeply and want to help solve it. The day was thoroughly successful because of this.”


The program began with a keynote address from Matt Nosanchuk an attorney from the U.S. Department of Justice’s civil rights division, representing the Office of the U.S. Attorney General.  His speech touched on “A New Era in America: A Call to Service,” letting the audience know there is a strong federal response to hate crimes.  He was followed by Christopher Davis, assistant special agent-in-charge with the Federal Bureau of Investigation who presented “Anatomy of a Hate Crime” from the FBI’s perspective. He chose the murder of James Byrd, an infamous and gruesome hate crime that shook the nation and the world in its viciousness to illustrate how the FBI assembles evidence to make a strong case.  In this instance their work resulted in convictions of the three murderers. 


A panel, moderated by managing editor of Florida This Week and WMNF News and Public Affairs Director Rob Lorei, explained all the ways hate crimes are being catalogued, investigated, and hopefully prevented through the actions of federal, state and non-governmental agencies.  Participants included Danille Carroll, director of the Florida Office of the Attorney General’s civil rights division. Thomas Battles, director of the U.S. Department of Justice’s southeast regional office, community relations service, Mark Potok, staff director of the Intelligence Project for the Southern Poverty Law Center and William Daniels, community resource specialist with the U.S. Attorney’s office, middle district of Florida.


With a foundation of information on those fighting hate crimes at the highest levels, the audience heard from the panel on the victims’ perspective made up of Robert Tanen from the Anti Defamation League, Barbara Burton from the Homeless Coalition of Hillsborough County as well as Mulder and her husband Lynn. In each case, the painful nature of hate crimes and their affects on individuals and their families touched the audience.


“Danille Carroll explained earlier how a hate crime that affected her personally went unreported because of her feelings of embarrassment and not knowing where to turn and when it came time to hear from this panel, things had changed to the point where these people did have somewhere to turn for help and that shows some progress,” Elam said.


Potok appeared again to deliver the luncheon keynote address with an overview of the movement of hate speech into the mainstream, via what he described as an enabling media leadership, and its affect on emboldening hateful behavior and potentially increased criminal behavior. According to Potok, there is escalating exploitation of the immigration issue and he warned, “We’re living through a period of backlash,” pointing to a 54 percent rise in the number of hate groups, nativist and militia-styled organizations. He said, “…this reflects a steady rise, not an explosive rise,” due largely in part to the election of a black man to the presidency and fear of a multicultural society.


Audience members were equally illustrious. Attendees included representatives from the Hillsborough County Board of Education, school administrators, clergy, and community advocates  as well as elementary, high school and college students.


In response to a question about the necessity of involving children in such a program, Anchin Endowed Professor and Anchin Center Director Bruce A. Jones, who is also USF associate dean for research noted, “Many signs of hate show up in the schools first.  It is vital that we work together because we get hit at different points in the hate/violence spectrum.”


Numerous resources were mentioned and discussed during the summit and fortunately there are several ways to access the information shared.  Susan Ariew, USF Academic Services Librarian for education, has created a special Hate Crime Awareness and Prevention Web site containing a wealth of information resources and will add to it. It is available at The Web resource page will feature upcoming activities and resources for all interested parties.  Audio tapes of the speeches and panel discussions will be available soon. 


“Along with the Web site, the USF Tampa Library is hosting a physical library display until September 30th to highlight activities and information resources to raise awareness around this important topic,” she said. 


Ted Williams, associate vice president for diversity and equal opportunity, associate dean for diversity initiatives and professor of molecular medicine, USF College of Medicine – one of the organizers of the event – was impressed with how the day progressed. 


“Emotions ran the gamut from shock, dismay, sympathy, outrage and finally hope,” said Williams.  “Overall, I believe everyone learned something new about the seriousness of this problem and we were all encouraged to find out there are many resources and organizations working on this problem, but most importantly that each of us is important in fighting and preventing hate crimes.  It really is in our power to make them a thing of the past.”


Led by USF Professor H. Roy Kaplan, summit participants broke up into groups focusing on five areas that are targets of hate crimes: race, gender, homelessness, immigration and religion, to discuss ways to take action. They reconvened with reports that recommended holding leaders accountable, education to grow awareness and help change attitudes, more dialogue, targeted events, use of social media and getting existing anti-hate groups to work together.  Kaplan exhorted everyone to go beyond working for tolerance but rather “…understanding, valuing and appreciating differences. We can’t survive if we don’t learn to appreciate one another and work together,” Kaplan said.


Other participants in the program who also received enthusiastic responses were two students from Freedom High School who led the Pledge of Allegiance, USF Ombudsman Samuel L. Wright who sang a medley of songs emphasizing the theme of the day and student Dustin McGahee, president of Youth for Human Rights in the Tampa Bay Area who read his original poem, “The Eyes of Discrimination.”


The day began with a prayer from Imam Mohammad Sultan, Islamic Society of Tampa Bay and closed with a prayer from USF Campus Rabbi Ed Rosenthal, executive director of Hillel Jewish Student Center of Tampa Bay


“The summit included everyone from every background and orientation conceivable and we all listened, talked, and learned from one another,” Elam said.  “If ever there was a case of walking the talk, this was it.  Now it’s up to each of us to spread the word that we can work towards a world where hate crimes become a historical relic and cautionary tale of what can happen if we don’t do our best to sustain a civil society where all are welcome.”


The University of South Florida System is one of the nation's top 63 public research universities and one of 39 community-engaged, four-year public universities as designated by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. USF was awarded $380.4 million in research contracts and grants in FY 2008/2009. The system offers 232 degree programs at the undergraduate, graduate, specialist and doctoral levels, including the doctor of medicine. It has a $1.8 billion annual budget, an annual economic impact of $3.2 billion, and serves more than 47,000 students on institutions/campuses in Tampa, St. Petersburg, Sarasota-Manatee and Lakeland. USF is a member of the Big East Athletic Conference.