Sewa Hosts Hate Crimes Webinar with HPD

By Katie Tong

Houston: The Hindu humanitarian organization, Sewa International, recently hosted a webinar titled Hate Crimes: What are They and How Can We Respond? The event was moderated by Ranjana Bedi, director of Hindus of Greater Houston, and Anup Bhasin, director of disaster relief for Sewa.

HPD Sergeant Alexandra Magnan gave a thoughtful, well-organized presentation, detailing the legalities of hate crime definitions, providing both hard facts and helpful tips, taking a sensitive topic and dissecting it in clear outlines to produce an educational (and very interesting!) session.

In order to have a hate crime, Magnan explained, there must be an actual crime, which is why many actions or speech that the public views as hateful, are not, legally, a hate crime. In this Magnun noted the difference between other countries, which prosecute hateful speech, with the United States, which tiers First Amendment freedoms above the distaste we may feel when we witness someone express societally-repugnant views.

Hatred or bias alone, Magnum stressed, does not create a crime. A crime already on the statutes must be committed, and the determination that it was a hate crime affects instead the sentencing portion of the judicial process.

HPD has a designated Hate Crimes Unit who functions as “second-level judgment unit” (examining the initial reports of a patrol officer to decide if a hate crime was committed). The unit works with the major investigative units in HPD depending on which type of crime is alleged. In other words, if there is suspected hate-bias in the motivation of a murder or burglary, the homicide or burglary division focuses on investigating the crime, while the Hate Crimes Unit investigates the possible hate-bias of the act. And if you witness an act you’re not sure is a hate crime? Report it, Magnum says.

At the same time, Magnun also cautioned not to jump to conclusions because “things may not always be as they appear,” noting for example, the centuries-old “peaceful swastika” that may show up on Buddhist statues or artwork, but was co-opted and repurposed by the Nazis. Magnun said it’s important for both the public, and for HPD, to be educated on varying cultural symbolisms so innocent depictions are not unfairly misconstrued.

Magnum noted the incredible diversity in Houston:with 145 different languages spoken and 25% of residents born outside of the United States. This diversity, Magnum said, is a great strength of our city that we should be proud of, but it does bring with it the potential for clashes between ideologies.

At present Magnan said there is no evidence that hate crimes in Houston have significantly increased in recent years, but that reporting of existing hate crimes has increased, which, she says, is a good thing, because there can be so many barriers to reporting. Victims may feel shame or fear they won’t be believed. Sometimes the shock makes a victim want to forget the incident so they don’t have to re-experience it. Please do not be afraid to report,

Magnan emphasized. But whether you’re a witness or a victim, you should prioritize your own safety while in the moment. Leave any area if in danger and remember that perpetrators may have hidden weapons. When you call 911, always give your location first so that officers can quickly get to the scene.

At the end of her presentation, Magnan shared a lengthy list of support organizations. Viewers can access Mangnan’s presentation at — Village News/Southwest News