Forum is a start toward community action
What can we all do to combat hate crimes?
That was a key question at a forum Sunday in Sarasota.
The event marked the beginning of what is to be an ongoing community discussion, and none too soon -- three months after a fire burned a Bosnian Muslim family out of their Sarasota County home.
Since that appalling episode -- which included violent, anti-Muslim graffiti -- no arrests have been made. The state fire marshal's office is leading the arson investigation but apparently has not yet determined if the fire should be classified a hate crime.
The investigation should be vigorously pursued. However it is classified, the fire sent a cruel message of exclusion.
We would like to believe that this crime is an aberration, not the norm, in Sarasota County. But such violence can gain a toehold if communities fail to act against it.
As speakers explained at Sunday's forum, hate crimes are particularly dangerous because the harm they do goes beyond an individual. They can sow fear and intimidation among a class of people. Distrust and violence can spread, ultimately damaging the whole community.
The forum was hosted by the Coalition for Inclusion and Diversity, initiated by the nonprofit community study group SCOPE (Sarasota County Openly Plans for Excellence). They plan to bring back ideas for exploration and implementation. Their efforts should be commended. [Link]
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