Judges discuss racial, religious hate crimes

Three judges discussed intolerance of blacks and Jews among Americans with students Monday night as part of a panel about hate crimes.

“The stature of African Americans in this country is an issue that has caused more oppression than any other situation with the possible exception of the saga of the Jewish people,” New York State Supreme Court Justice Laura Blackburne said.

While GW officials and students report that hate crimes are not prevalent on campus, the panel opened dialogue between groups such as the Black Student Union and Jewish Student Association, which co-sponsored the event with GW Hillel and the Anti-Defamation League.

About 40 students attended the discussion in the Marvin Center Ballroom, which is part of a traveling program called Not Just Blacks and Jews in Conversation.

The program was created in the early ’90s after the Crown Heights riots in New York City pitted African Americans against Jews. The riots broke out in 1991 after an orthodox Jew hit and killed a seven-year-old black child with his car in Brooklyn, N.Y. A mob of blacks then chased another orthodox Jewish man who had nothing to do with the accident and fatally stabbed him.

Blackburne appeared on the panel with her daughter, Anna Blackburne-Rigsby, an associate D.C. Superior Court Judge. The women are the only mother-daughter pair of judges serving in higher courts.

Shannon Taylor, an administrative law judge in New York City, called for Jews and blacks to work together to fight hatred.

“Common enemies to us all are far weightier than whatever differences we may have had,” he said.

Blackburne agreed, saying, “Each era has its ‘nigger,’ and if we don’t speak out against it across the board, the (hate) groups are just going to (oppress) again.”

Blackburne-Rigsby compared the Holocaust to slavery, saying both Jews and blacks had suffered atrocities.

BSU President Phil Robinson said the event was the beginning of a partnership between the JSA and BSU.

“BSU is hoping to make a coalition with the JSA to strengthen the community,” he said. “We have co-sponsored events with them in the past, so we have a growing and thriving relationship.”

Taylor called on students to make the next step toward a tolerant society.

“We can’t lose momentum,” he said. “There was a momentum generated here tonight, and that was just the beginning.”

At GW, crimes stemming from hate seem rare but the University Police Department does not keep statistics specifically on those incidents, UPD Director Dolores Stafford said.

“We have incidents of vandalism, mostly dealing with graffiti,” she said, which UPD cleans to discourage the spread of vandalism.

Stafford also said the department deals with a few harassment charges each year based on name-calling. Those cases are referred to Student Judicial Services.

SJS can charge offenders with discrimination through the Code of Student Conduct if it is coupled with another charge such as disorderly conduct, Community Living and Learning Center Dean Mike Walker said.

“I would like to see African American and Jewish solidarity on various issues regarding race and civil rights,” said freshman Omar Woodard, a newly elected Student Association senator. “Any cooperation is a plus, because both sides have a common cause.”

-Artemy Kalinovsky contributed to this report.

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