In Uncertain Times, Young People Turn To Old Prejudices

April 19, 1992|By Lan Nguyen | Lan Nguyen,Staff writer

High school students in Maryland were involved in more hate activities than any other age group in 1990, state police records show.

Almost 170 teen-agers between 15 and 17 were involved in hate incidentsor crimes that ranged from assaults to vandalism to verbal threats in 1990, the first time police kept records of race, religious and ethnic incidents under the state's hate-crime law. That's also the most recent year for which statistics are available.

In Howard County, county police recorded at least 18 incidents involving teens in 1990 and at least 16 last year.

"The fact that young people are involved is an indication that more education is needed to teach about the rights and sensitivity of others," said Capt. John Cook, head of the Maryland State Police's criminal intelligence commission, which collects data and studies statistics on hate crimes and racial incidents.

State police reported that 35 percent of the damage done in 1990 racial incidents and hate crime was inflicted upon government property, most of it at public schools. The monetary loss can be tremendous. Last February, for example, vandals caused more than $600,000 of damage in destroying property and spray-painting swastikas and racial epithets on Richard Montgomery High School in Rockville, Montgomery County.

Why are teen-agers exhibiting such hostility?

"Part of the reason is that their futures are not as certain," said Cristina Bodinger-deUriarte, author of "Hate Crime: Sourcebookfor Schools."

"In the past, young people have taken their futuresfor granted, especially the middle-class youngsters," she said.

Teen-agers also are growing up in a time of transition, when they don't know much about the civil rights movement of the 1960s and the racial problems of the past, she said.

"Young people are growing up inan era of affirmative action, and they don't really remember why it's there," she said. "A lot of it is misplaced frustration. It's easy to scapegoat a group they think has got an unfair advantage."

And,she added, "whenever you have a drop in the economic well-being, youhave a rise in hate crime."

Today, "the organized hate groups themselves are calling high schools and college campuses the fertile ground," Bodinger-deUriarte said.

The number of hate organizations nationwide are on the rise -- and so is hate crime, said Danny Welch, head of the Klanwatch Project at the Southern Poverty Law Center, a non-profit civil rights organization based in Montgomery, Ala.

"We feel like for sure they've been on the increase for a few years," saidWelch, whose organization tracks hate crimes through community, police and media reports.

Klanwatch Project reported a record number of active white supremacist groups in the United States last year -- 346, up from 273 in 1990.

"The perpetrators of hate crime are teen-agers and young adults," Welch said. "They're the people we need to reach and educate."

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