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Bias a major concern

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The vandal who smashed the windshield as well as driver’s side front and rear windows of Isa Alzouma’s 2003 Chevrolet Avalanche parked at his Watertown home Dec. 7 left the following note:

“U (expletive) (racial slur) I know where u work too!!! U better watch your back!!!” according to a transcript in a police report Mr. Alzouma showed the Watertown Daily Times. “(Expletive) Muslim and (racial slur)! Quit your job or else.”

Mr. Alzouma is an immigrant from Niger who has lived in Watertown for three years. He is employed by a security firm and works at the Dulles State Office Building.

After several weeks of investigation, officials with the Watertown Police Department said they haven’t found enough evidence that the incident can be classified as a hate crime. The note alone does not prove the vandal’s motivation for damaging Mr. Alzouma’s vehicle.

Police said they believe the incident may be related to workplace tension. Some interviews with individuals have produced a few leads, said Detective Richard J. Purvis.

It’s possible that investigators have uncovered some evidence suggesting the crime was driven more by problems between co-workers than a bias against a man who is both black and a Muslim. If this was the case, perhaps the offender used such demeaning language as a way to mask any work-related association that may exist.

But hopefully the police won’t be so quick to dismiss the potential that racial and religious bias was at least part of what motivated the offender. Anyone who feels comfortable writing a note like that obviously has a bigotted mindset.

State penal code declares that a hate crime occurs when a person commits an offense involving violence, intimidation or property damage because of the actual or perceived background of the victim. The trick with a hate crime classification is that bias must be proven as the primary motivation behind the crime.

Hate crime laws have become controversial. Some people believe bias should not be given special recognition. An act of vandalism is just as bad no matter who the victim is, opponents claim.

Well, this isn’t quite right.

An act of violence or vandalism against any individual is atrocious in itself. But a hate crime is directed not only at the individual victim but at everyone else who shares the victim’s characteristics. It’s an attempt to intimidate and control all other members of that group, especially if their numbers constitute a minority.

Members of dominant groups often feel the need to threaten minority groups to perpetuate the privilege they have in society to the detriment of others. Their bigotry blinds them to the fact that the existence of people who are different than they are actually strengthens our community.

The Watertown Police Department should consider calling in the FBI to help investigate this case. The FBI has resources that could either confirm or deny if bias was a motivating factor. Just because the police can’t yet see the bigotry doesn’t mean it’s not there.

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