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Opinion editorials by Katey LaFrance

as seen in the Liberal Opinion Week and other publications.
Member of the National Writer's Union.

Not In Our Town" Campaign Against Hate Crimes Needed in Wyoming

   Citizens of Wyoming should hold their heads in shame at the hatred and prejudice which has reared its ugly head, again. Such a great place to supposedly raise your children, should not condone the kind of behaviour which runs off an American of Asian descent from the very town where she and her husband, both physicians, practised and lived with their infant son. Nor should the beating and slashing of a gay man be shrugged off. How in the world can we expect children to learn tolerance and an appreciation for other cultures, with those kinds of examples being played out to a shrug of collective indifference?

   When Americans who are Jewish were attacked in their home in Billings, Montana, the townspeople were so appalled and outraged they banded together. The local paper printed full page menorahs, which everyone then hung in their windows as a show of solidarity with their neighbours and also to confuse those who hate. They had no idea whose window to smash next, as all proclaimed to be Jewish. Billings called this the Not in Our Town campaign. It has since been immortalised by a widely broadcast documentary. That documentary was followed by a second one which chronicled the inspired actions of other towns involved in proclaiming their communities hate free. Many creative and diverse actions were the result of people putting aside their differences and working together for the good of all.

   A year ago, the Casper Star Tribune printed their symbol of zero tolerance for hatred, three distinctive green circles on a field of pale yellow, when Matthew Shephard was murdered. The Wyoming Grassroots Project, a human rights organisation, distributed their own circular symbol with the word "hate" crossed out by a slash; the circle was surrounded by the words, "Wyoming - Equality State." Many, many copies of that symbol were emailed and passed out to people all over Wyoming, and the nation, who felt touched by the violence and sadness; people who wanted to join in a concerted effort to protest such horrible events. It was hoped, at the time, that Wyomingites would take up the call, as in Billings, and declare their stand against the violence and intimidation which are the results of hatred.

   "Today, as I drive around Casper, I see a few, sun-bleached signs posted in the windows of a few homes, but there has been no significant, collective effort to declare a Not In Our Town campaign to promote tolerance in Casper, or anywhere else in Wyoming.

   Opponents of bias crimes laws are out en force, gearing up with their spin on why minorities should not feel as safe and welcome as the majority of citizens. Bias crimes laws are a way for the community or state to set a precedence; to let everyone know that certain aspects of behaviour will not be tolerated. It is like teaching a child good manners and respect. By being up front with the rules and expectations of behaviour, those who harbour hatred and wish to act on it in a violent manner are forewarned against doing so. If they then go on to commit the crime, they will suffer the consequences.

   Law enforcement personnel in Wyoming already have a tremendous resource at hand for training on recognising and dealing with hate crimes. At the Wyoming Law Enforcement Academy, Staff Instructor John Rabun teaches a class called Hate Crimes, which is also available for on-site training, at the request of any law enforcement office in Wyoming.

   Once again, a couple more gay men have been beaten up in Wyoming. Most likely more, as many are too intimidated to report the attacks. This is not okay, neither is it okay that an American physician of Asian descent has been run out of Wyoming. How many more is it going to take for the people of Wyoming to rise up in indignation and solidarity for all of her peoples to live safely, free of fear, and the sometimes fatal violence of hate? Apathy and its inaction give tacit approval to those who harbour and act out their hatred. It is time to cast apathy aside; join hands with neighbours from all walks of life; and tell the hatemongers, "Not In Our Town/State!".

© November 10, 1999 OoBraughLoo Press All Rights Reserved