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Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Another false hate crime 

A Trinity International University student unhappy about attending the school was charged with a hate crime after confessing she sent racially threatening mail to fellow minority classmates, prompting a temporary evacuation of blacks and Latino students, authorities said Tuesday.

Alicia Hardin, 19, of Chicago, an African-American woman, made up the hoax to try to convince her parents that the Bannockburn school was too dangerous a place for her to stay, police said.

It is too bad that it in our world it seemed plausible to Alicia Hardin that her parents would believe that Trinity International was unsafe because of some nasty letters.

It is also too bad that the sending of a few letters, however hurtful, is a crime that will ruin this girl's life. Shame should make her apologize (there is no indication in the news reports here in Chicago -- yes, TigerHawk is in Chicago this morning -- that she has), and then she should continue with her life. We should prosecute for "sticks and stones," and we should remind everybody that words only hurt people who choose to be hurt by them.

It is too bad that this has happened before:
A handful of similar hoaxes have played out on other college campuses over the past five years, including some involving students who were Jewish, Muslim and African-American who falsely claimed to be victimized, said one former college administrator...

In one instance, three black freshmen students confessed to writing racial slurs in a residence hall at the University of Mississippi in 2002, a prank that drew national scrutiny as the college celebrated 40 years of desegregation.

A similar incident occurred at Northwestern University in Evanston in November 2003, when anti-Hispanic graffiti was scrawled on a wall and a poster near a student's dormitory room. The student, who described himself as the son of an interracial couple, told police he was the victim of racist harassment and a knife attack before confessing the reports were fake.

These false claims are particularly destructive to race relations -- much more, I should think, than genuine expressions of racial hatred -- because they use the best impulses of people (including whites) as a weapon. These incidents are traumatic only because most people today -- including most whites -- want our society to be just in these matters. If we weren't troubled by racism, we wouldn't care.

Finally, it is too bad that the Rev. Jesse Jackson gave the press a quotation that could be read to mean two entirely differently things:
"We must work to clean up the environment that makes such a hoax believable, a hoax that does harm to so many individuals and the institution."

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