Long Beach Trial Puts Focus on 'Hate Crime'
FARAI CHIDEYA, host:
From NPR News, this is NEWS & NOTES. I'm Farai Chideya.
In the Southern California city of Long Beach, 10 black children and teens are on trial in what many have dubbed the Long Beach hate crime. Nine girls and one boy were arrested on Halloween night. They were charged with assault after three young white women were beaten and hit with a skateboard outside of a haunted house. That place drew lots of people.
Eight of the black defendants are also facing hate crime enhancements for reportedly yelling racial slurs at the white women. That was during the attack that happened in the affluent Bixby Knolls neighborhood.
That night, police had the victims identify the suspects, who were told to step out one by one in front of car headlights. The case has attracted national interest in part because the alleged violence was by blacks - most likely to be the victims of hate crimes.
The incident challenges us to think carefully about what exactly a hate crime is. And it ask we consider how perceptions and stereotypes shaped what we may be willing to call a hate crime.
Since the trial began, the victims and their families have said little outside of court. Their lawyer, Doug Otto, told us earlier that the three victims did nothing to provoke the attack.
Mr. DOUG OTTO (Attorney): They did nothing except to think that they were going out on Halloween to have a little bit of fun. What they hope to do is to have these people convicted of the crimes that they're charged of and get appropriate sentences.
CHIDEYA: Otto explained that the young women sustained serious injuries. One will need reconstruction of her face and teeth. Another suffered a concussion, and she and a friend are recovering from soft-tissue injuries. He says that there's been a big emotional toll too.
Mr. OTTO: The victimization in crimes like this is ongoing. Even when the physical injuries have healed, the psychological issues go on for years and years and years. They affect the families as well as the individuals who were individually victimized. And I don't think people fully appreciate what it takes to go through an experience like this.
CHIDEYA: Besides the physical and emotional issues stemming from the attack, Otto says the victims and their families have had to deal with what they see as other kinds of damage as well.
Mr. OTTO: The thing that's been disappointing to my clients in this case is that their names have gotten out, particularly the one victim that's testified. The places that they go to school have been identified.
And because there has been some very serious witness intimidation of other witnesses in this case, they're very, very fearful and very, very concerned that the same things might happen to them.
CHIDEYA: As for the defendants, what they fear is being convicted for what they argue is a case of mistaken identity. They say they were just bystanders as a group of hooded boys carried out the actual attack. The 10 suspects, none of whom have criminal records, are being detained now in juvenile hall.
Last week, some of their parents came to Los Angeles and presented their case to the press. Chrissy Malone has two children on trial. Like many of the other defendants' parents, she maintains their innocence.
Malone is worried that one of her kids may have trouble now preparing for college.
Ms. CHRISSY MALONE (Parent of Defendant): I have one daughter that's waiting for a five-year scholarship. She's been top two in the world running in the Junior Olympics ever since she was 9 years old. And she's also was picked to represent the United States of America last year to run in Morocco, and this year in China.
So these are good kids. These are not just your average hoodlum kids. And you see that we parents are middle-class hardworking parents, and we need our children released.
CHIDEYA: Malone and the other parents explained that night that they want their children released from juvenile hall. The children have been incarcerated for almost two months. The parents said they were willing to bring the defendants to all of their court appointments.
But they also want their kids to continue attending school as the trial goes on. Cynthia Hoffman's granddaughter is among the defendants. During a question and answer session with a small audience, Hoffman expressed her sympathies for all the parties involved in this case.
Ms. CYNTHIA HOFFMAN (Grandparent of Defendant): My heart does go out to the victims. I do feel for the victim's family. They don't deserve to be beaten, or you know, taunted or whatever happened that night. But also I feel that my child should be able to come home so she can continue her education because no one will be able to give her back this time.
CHIDEYA: One of the defendants has a track scholarship at a state college. Because she's also a Jehovah's Witness, her father, who chose not to be identified, says she doesn't celebrate Halloween and went along that night just to drive the other kids.
Her father says it's been hard enough to believe any of the defendants committed the assault. He finds the hate crime charge especially hard to accept.
Unidentified Man (Parent of Defendant): My daughter, first thing she said, dad, isn't great grandma white? And grandma have - I said I know. I know, and she said I would never dishonor them like that. And even in our congregation is a multi-racial and - you know, never had problems like that. So I just don't believe all of a sudden these kids just lost it. No way.
CHIDEYA: The hate crime aspect of this case has made it difficult to ignore the issue of race.
Alynne Seymour(ph) has a 16-year-old daughter among the defendants. She feels the local press has turned popular opinion and the judge in this case against the black children. But no matter how this trial ends, she'd like to avoid an explosion of racial tension after the verdict.
Ms. ALYNNE SEYMOUR (Parent of Defendant): I just hoped that, you know, people can get healed from this. You know, there won't be any animosity - blacks and whites, or repercussions, you know, violence, you know, if they are released or whatever. You know, I just don't want this to blow up and cause more feud and tension within, you know, the races.