Barack Obama will soon be sworn in as the first black president of the United States and already, some have reacted negatively.
Since the Nov. 4 election, there have been multiple cars vandalized in Ames; a church that was home to a predominately African-American congregation was burned to the ground in Massachusetts; and several incidences of assault have occurred across the nation. But these crimes were different than others, they were hate crimes.
Bryan Woodson, sophomore in communication studies and member of the Iowa State Universitychapter of the Black Student Alliance, said he was concerned with the incident at Baylor University in which a white noose was found hanging on a tree on Election Day. Four students claiming responsibility said the rope was actually a rope swing, according to The Lariat, Baylors student newspaper.
This is a huge issue, and though we havent experienced anything as extreme here on the Iowa State campus, there are those who do have racist views about minorities here, Woodson said. [The incident at Baylor] lets you know that racism is real. It lets you know that we need to take a stand, no matter what your race is.
Woodson said it is important for people to keep an open mind and try to understand the cultural and racial differences that seem to separate those who commit hate crimes and those who are the victims of such acts.
According to the Iowa Code, chapter 729A.2, Violation of Individual Rights-Hate Crimes, a hate crime is identified as an offense related to a persons race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, political affiliation, sex, sexual orientation, age, or disability, or the persons association with a person of a certain race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, political affiliation, sex, sexual orientation, age, or disability. The code includes damages done to a person or a persons property.
Under the code, charges of assault, arson, criminal mischief and trespassing are usually coupled with hate crimes, said Stephen Holmes, Story County attorney.
Holmes said the hatred component of a crime does not enhance the charge.
What this does is it permits a civil remedy meaning that the person who is the victim can bring an action pursuant of this section for civil damages, he said.
Civil damages are a result of someones criminal activity of negligence, Holmes said.
Section 729A.5 of Iowa law permits those who are the victim of hate crimes to bring an additional court hearing to the original charge.
You could argue assault in the criminal case by saying that it was a hate crime and then have this special section which permits separate civil action, Holmes said.
Section 729A.5 allows the victim, the plaintiff, to sue the alleged, the defendant, for special damages, including pain and suffering, emotional distress, compensation for lost wages, etc.
If the judge or jury finds the defendant even partially at fault, the defendant would be ordered to pay the plaintiffs attorney fees and some or all of the money requested for by the plaintiff, Holmes said.
Holmes said he has handled a handful of hate crimes in Story County throughout his time working as the Story County attorney, but said he didnt remember the details of those cases.
One he vaguely remembered was an instance of a hate crime against ones religion.
The person who we charged spoke to the person who was assaulted and said some derogatory or defamatory words that indicated they were assaulting the person because of their religion, he said.
Holmes said he didnt have enough information to say whether or not more hate crimes based on race ould occur in the future.
I dont have any information to support a position like that, he said. Any time there has been some kind of change, there has always been some reaction. I dont have any information to speculate on the incidences of hate crimes based on race are going to increase.
According to the Iowa State Department of Public Safetys crime statistics, there were no reports of hate crimes between 2005 and 2007, the last three years on record.
There were no reports of hate crimes within the past three years in Ames, according to the U.S. Department of Justice and the Federal Bureau of Investigations hate crime statistics.