Not in Our Town

YC hosts community discussion on preventing hate crimes

In 2008, the idyllic village of Patchogue, New York, was rocked by violence when a group of seven teen-aged boys attacked and killed a man in the street.

The impetus for their action? They were just having fun “beaner hopping,” their term for harassing and beating Latinos.

Could something like this ever happen in York, Nebraska?

That was the question posed by a recent program hosted by York College that involved local high school students and community leaders as well as college students. “Not in Our Town” explored sensitive issues of why hate crimes occur and what can be done to prevent them, starting with the individual.A student brainstorms on ways to prevent hate crime in her community.

Participants were challenged to take a step back and evaluate how they judge others and what their own response to injustice is.

The program was hosted in conjunction with NET Television and the Anti Defamation League. York was one of four Nebraska communities chosen to host this program. NET is creating a documentary about the program, to be aired sometime in April 2012.

Participants viewed a PBS documentary called “Not in Our Town: A Light in the Darkness” that told the story of the tragedy in Patchogue and the community’s response in the aftermath. The film examined the underlying causes of the violence and how the event unified the community and improved the quality of life for other Latinos in it.

After the film, participants were asked what inspired, surprised, and upset them about the film, and what similarities they saw between the communities of Patchogue and York. After discussion, they were encouraged to brainstorm ideas for preventing hate crime and intolerance in their own communities.

Jason Lloyd, a senior from St. Louis, Mo., says one of the things that struck him about the film was how many people knew there was a problem with violence toward Latinos in the community of Patchogue—people who did nothing.

“Why didn’t anybody say anything? How can somebody not notice what is going on?...I just don’t understand why people don’t open their mouths and stand up for others,” he says.

Close up of action plan poster
Hailey Siebold, a senior from Littleton, Colo., agrees. “You need to stand up for the small things. Big things build from small things. It all escalates,” she said, drawing parallels to the Holocaust and the lack of moral courage of the countless individuals who ignored the situation as people died. “You would think that people would learn from these huge historical events,” she says, noting that the same problems still exist today, both in the small scale, such as the event in Patchogue, and at a much bigger level, such as the genocide in Darfur.

Crystal Rush, a senior from Ponca, Neb., echoed Siebold. “The community of York doesn’t need to have a tragedy like this if people can learn from past events. We need to learn from this.”

Erin DeHart, associate professor of education, was responsible for bringing the program to York. She says the program is valuable as it creates awareness of problems that often go unnoticed in a small town. DeHart says her goal for the program was for participants to not only become more aware of the needs of the people around them, but for them to also have a personal action plan for when they witness or experience social injustice.

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