Hatred is an ugly and evil thing. The irrational dislike that a person or people can have towards another is among our darkest shared traits as human beings. The USA, with a growing and diverse population is no stranger sadly to hatred that turns into violence or even worse. While it’s never a fun exercise to go through some of the ugliness that we as a society have created and endured, it is also very important to never forget our past.
This most recent election has proven, if nothing else, that we remain an extremely divided country and if we have any real hope of coming together in a meaningful way, then it can start by promising to never let any of these heinous acts be forgotten. The only way forward is to look back, sometimes with an unflinching and critical eye and vow to become better citizens and make a more inclusive society from it.
Some of what follows will be hard to read and re-live, but as the saying goes, the best way to defeat evil is to look it squarely in the eye, name it, shame it, and then learn from it. Though that is cold comfort for the people who were directly effected by these crimes, their stories must continue to be told.
15. The Lynching of Jesse Washington
Jesse Washington was a black teenager who worked as a farm hand on a ranch in Waco Texas. He was convicted of raping and murdering the wife of his employer in what was best described as a kangaroo court that many feel essentially railroaded him into confessing. After being found guilty (despite there being no eyewitnesses), Washington was dragged through the streets, hung from a tree, and then burnt to death. The event, rather than be stopped, was treated like a celebration by the locals, with even children watching the carnage unfold. The mentality and blood lust of the mob are what is truly horrifying about this event since it occurred in broad daylight and with no one to stop it.
14. Murders of Charles Moore and Henry Dee
Justice can take a long time to present itself, if it even comes at all. Yet, it remains something we cling to in order to find hope in what can be a cruel and harsh world at times. In the case of Charles Moore and Henry Dee, justice took over four decades before it came. Their case happened almost by accident as an investigation into the disappearance of 3 Civil Rights workers ended up turning up the bodies of two unidentified black men at the time. For over 40 years, it wasn’t known how both men had been killed and who had left their bodies near the Mississippi River. Yet, the truth eventually won out thanks to determined work by journalists and one of the murderers was brought to trial and convicted, a former police officer no less who was also a member of the KKK.
13. Harvey Milk Assassination
Harvey Milk was a man before his time. He served as the first openly gay person to be elected and serve in public office in California and was instrumental in helping to pass gay rights ordinances in San Francisco. Many in the LGBT community have likened Milk to their own version of MLK and just like Dr. King, Milk met an untimely death at the hands of a disgruntled man who resented what he had come to stand for. Though Milk’s time in the spotlight was relatively brief, as he only served for under a year before his death, his message and courage to be the person he was helped put LGBT rights in the forefront of many people’s minds. Milk himself had not started out as an activist or even come out until well into his adult life but when he finally found peace with himself, he became a symbol for finding unity that still resonates to this very day.
12. Baptist Church Bombing
There are certain principles that, as a nation, we all should agree upon. The murder of innocent people, especially children, who are at Church would seem to be a bedrock belief. Unfortunately, when you have hate groups like the KKK that exist just to hurt and destroy those who don’t agree with them, the playing field is not level. The bombing that occurred in Alabama, when members of the KKK left dynamite to explode with a timer, become yet another flash point in our nation’s struggle for equality. One year later, the Civil Rights Act was passed, but the damage had been done. The families of the four young girls who had been killed would forever be shattered and their memories live on now as martyrs in a cause they probably weren’t even aware they were a part of at first.
11. The Murder of Emmett Till
Emmett Till remains a flash point in the history of the Civil Rights Movement. Not just for the actual crime, but for the aftermath of it as well. Till was a young boy in Mississippi who was lynched and shot, then had his body thrown into a river after flirting with a married white woman. His murderers were acquitted of the crime, but only confessed when they no longer had any fear of a re-trial. Till’s mother decided to have an open casket so that the whole world could see exactly what had been done to her son. The public horror and shock that so many had upon seeing a young man’s body bloated and broken was a pivotal moment in unmasking the deep-seated racism that was happening in the heart of the country. Many Civil Rights leaders and scholars to this day continue to point to Till’s death and funeral as a lode star in the country’s ongoing struggle toward racial justice.
10. Frazier Glenn Miller Jr.
Perhaps the greatest known hate crime ever carried out happened in the 1930s and ’40s during the Holocaust. During that particular time in Germany, anti-semitism was used to create a sense of Patriotism and give the German public an enemy it could rally behind. Hitler then took that unity and twisted it to his evil beliefs and ever since then, the lingering stench of “them versus us” can be sensed in every hate crime that is undertaken. Frazier Glenn Miller Jr., a Neo-Nazi member decided that he’d best fight for white power by killing three people in Kansas purely because they were at a Jewish Center and thus, part of some vast conspiracy that he subscribed to. Miller was sentenced to the death penalty in 2015, proving that even nearly a century later, perverted beliefs and hatreds still spur people to commit crimes purely because they can.
9. Assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.
The death of MLK, like that of JFK is what many historians point to as a moment where America “lost” its innocence. However, as noted by some of the previous cases, that innocence masked a long history of violence and hatred that often existed below the surface. MLK helped usher in a period of peaceful protest that could not be ignored and the dreams he spoke of began to take hold with each passing day. Still, his life was cut short much too soon and the violent way in which it ended, at a local motel, only helped to further the causes that he held so very dear during his life. MLK did not believe that violence would ultimately bring the change he believed in, but in death, he helped galvanize a nation to follow in his footsteps.
8. Charleston Shooting
With the election of President Obama, the phrase “post-racial” began to crop up in various media outlets. Essentially, that by electing a black man as President, the US had finally put its racist past behind it and was now embarking on a new journey where everyone more or less respected one another. Of course, this was not to be the case. With racial violence sparking up again all over the nation, actions such as the horrible shooting in Charleston reminded us that for as much progress as we might seem to be making, there is still a much longer way to go. At the very least, the outcome of this tragedy did see one silver lining: the final banning of the confederate flag, which for many held a deeply painful and racist past, one they were happy to finally see let go of.
7. Brandon Teena – Boys Don’t Cry
The Trans community has recently taken center stage as scores of people have come out with their own stories and lives. As it continues to grow acceptance in the country and worldwide, victims such as Brandon Teena must not be forgotten. Teena was killed after being raped along with two others after repeatedly being harassed by the two murderers. Teena’s murder became the primary subject of a documentary and subsequent film, Boys Don’t Cry, which placed the spotlight on the plight of the transexual community and the violence that is often enacted upon them. Thankfully, as 2016 rolls to a close, the trans community is more empowered than ever to tell their stories and it remains to the rest of us to give them the support to move further into the mainstream.
6. Dragging Death of James Byrd Jr.
The chains from the image above were the ones used to drag James Byrd Jr. from the back of a pickup truck in 1998. Byrd had been captured by 3 men, two of whom were found to be White Supremacists and was then tied to the back of the truck and dragged for miles until he finally succumbed to his wounds. The 3 men then continued to drag his body before dumping it near a cemetery. Thankfully all three men were brought to justice and Byrd’s death helped lead to the passing of an anti-hate crime bill in Texas. His death further resonated with the nation and in junction with another hate crime related murder, helped create a federal law aimed at stopping Hate Crime that was signed by President Obama in 2009.
5. Lynching of Michael Donald
The last known lynching occurred in 1981. Though we like to think of much of the ugliness of the past as way long ago, the fact that an innocent young man was lynched less than a generation ago should give everyone pause. Donald was murdered by two members of the KKK, one of whom was put to death for his actions, the only such case of an active KKK member being put to death directly for lynching an African American. Further, Donald’s family was able to successfully sue for over $7 million in damages and helped bankrupt one of the KKK’s largest organizations, setting a precedent on how legal action could be taken against known racist groups and organizations.
4. Matthew Shepard
Matthew Shepard was murdered because he was gay. Yet, his murder was not classified as a hate crime because, at the time, that classification didn’t exist in Wyoming. Though both men involved in his murder were convicted and sentenced, it was only years later that a law was passed both in his and James Byrd Jr.’s name which, once and for all, shed light on violence carried out under racial or sexual hatred. Shepard’s story has gone on to be retold in the arts and media and his family have taken up the mantle of LGBT activists to help ensure that these horrors are prevented. Like so many on this list, Shepard was a regular person who was made to suffer simply because of who he was and that knowledge and pain must always continue to sting and be remembered in order for his story to continue being told.
3. Luis Ramirez’s Murder
The anti-immigration fervor that has become commonplace in the USA right now has led to some remarkably ugly incidents. Though politicians can claim that they are not to blame for the actions of the mob, the sentiments have been boiling to a point where violence has become inevitable. The recent death of Luis Ramirez is one such case, as he was targeted for being an immigrant and was beaten to death with racial insults being hurled at him as he drew his final breath. Though the case was rife with controversy, including a police cover-up, two of the men involved were sentenced. With anger and fear at such a fevered pitch, these sorts of cases may become less and less outliers and more the norm, despite repeated calls for unity.
2. Maulama Akonjee – Murder
Along with anti-immigration violence, violence against Muslims has been on a rapid uptick in the USA. Much of it possibly stems from the pumped up patriotism that swarmed the country after 9/11. Terrorist attacks carried out from fringe groups in Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran and Syria continued to put Islam and Terrorism in the news together on an almost nightly basis, but to paint an entire group of people with a single brush destroys any hope of overcoming the evil of the few. The murder of Maulama Akonjee, a Muslim Cleric in Queens, New York was only the most extreme and latest example of a growing animosity toward the Muslim population in the United States. The actions of a radical few must not be allowed to dominate and frame how an entire generation of people are treated. The basis to live free is what the US is based on at its very core and that must be held up against hatred in all its forms.
1. Pulse Night Club Shooting
The 2016 shooting at the Pulse Night Club is probably the most horrific recent hate crime and has a mix of several of the previous slides, creating one true encapsulation of where the nation’s misfortunes are at the moment. The gunman, a radicalized man who acted alone, targeted and murdered 49 people attending a gay nightclub in Orlando and claimed to be doing it in the name of ISIS. That the victims were at a gay night club and that the killer was Muslim set off all sorts of dog whistling in politics, but the profound loss of life is what really matters.
Each and every one of these hate crimes left victims and families that will never be whole again. Hatred against a group of people based on something as arbitrary as race or sex remains an issue that must be tackled on a daily basis. By treating each incident with the seriousness and care it deserves, by not glossing over the past and by making a better effort to understand and empathize with others, that is the only way forward.