Race problem in U.S. escalates: Cross-burning in Courtlandt, N.Y.

To the Editor:

The recent cross-burning on the lawn of Clara Montague-Artope and Wesley Artope in Cortlandt, N.Y., once again sends a chilling message to members of the Yale Divinity School faculty: The cross can threaten as much violence now as it did 2,000 years ago. The threat of racial violence linked vividly to Christianity in the flames of the burning cross is alive and well — and not just in the South.

The cross, which stood four feet tall, easily conjures up the dehumanizing specter of cross-burnings and lynchings from the 1800s and 1900s. Even here at Yale, some students used Halloween as an excuse to don blackface. In a separate incident, the side of one of our colleges was defaced with racist graffiti. The cross-burning on the Artopes’ lawn takes on a personal tone because they are the cousins of one of our Divinity School students, but it is just one sign of a larger cultural problem.

The level of hate crimes in the U.S. is now at more than 190,000 incidents per year. As the Nov. 25 op-chart in The New York Times points out, the recent “noose” (read “lynching”) events have increased to an alarming degree since the huge Sept. 20 rally in Jena, La., where thousands protested the racist prosecution of six young black men (known as the Jena 6). It appears that we are in the midst of a virulent white backlash to calls for racial justice. As members of the faculty of Yale Divinity School and as people invested in theological education, we are concerned about the link between such extreme forms of violence and our ability to tolerate or accept every day acts of racist and classist violence.

Such acts include the perpetuation of poor educational systems, continued housing discrimination, lack of access to quality heath care for ever-growing numbers of people, and limited or no access to health insurance for millions. We commit ourselves and encourage people of all faith traditions to mobilize in their communities and worship spaces to send an emphatic “No!” to all forms of racist violence in our communities.

Teresa Berger, Joseph Britton, Harlon Dalton, Siobhán Garrigan, John Grim, John Hare, Vicki Hoffer, Jan Holton, Jeremy Hultin, Martin Jean, Willis Jenkins, Serene Jones, Thomas Ogletree, Sally M. Promey, Chris Scharen, Carolyn J. Sharp, Harry Stout, J. Frederick Streets, Diana Swancutt, Alfred Tisdale, Nora Tubbs Tisdale, Emilie M. Townes, Thomas H. Troeger, Mary Evelyn Tucker, Denys Turner and Robert Wilson

Dec. 5

The writers are all faculty members of the Yale Divinity School.


  • Anonymous

    The Justice Department hate crime study provides no evidence of a backlash against the struggle for racial justice. The study show that whites and Hispanics are more likely to be victims of hate crimes than blacks: "Per capita rates of hate crime victimization varied little by race or ethnicity: about 0.9 per 1,000 whites, 0.7 percent blacks, and 0.9 percent Hispanics."

    The Justice Department study states that whites (including Hispanics) make up only 43 percent of hate crime offenders, even though they make up nearly 80 percent of the population. It identifies 38.8 percent of hate crime offenders as black, even though blacks make up only about 13 percent of the population. By contrast, the FBI numbers identified 58.6 percent of hate crimes offenders as white and 20.6 percent of hate crime offenders as black. According the Justice Department study, 'About 4 in 10 white hate crime victims indicated that the offenders were white, and the same proportion reported the offenders to have been black. The small number of black hate crime victims precludes analysis of the race of persons who victimized them."

    Hate crimes, according to the Justice Department report, make up less than one percent of crimes. Of the 7,330 hate crime offenders listed in the FBI report, 3,957 committed racially motivated hate crimes. This means that 0.0013 percent of Americans committed racially motivated hate crimes. If racially motivated hate crimes were reliable indicators of racial prejudice in society, we could conclude that more than 99.9 percent of Americans are free of racial bias.

    Violence between races not reported as hate crimes is a much more serious problem than racially motivated hate crimes. According to the FBI unified crime report, for example, there were three racially motivated murders during 2006. However, 573 of the 3,709 whites murdered in 2006 were murdered by blacks, while 208 of the 3,304 blacks murdered during the same year were murdered by whites.

  • Anonymous

    The problem with using percentages based on race is that you're not taking into account the fact that gender, faith, and sexuality also fall under hate crimes. Break down the 0.9 white, 0.7 black, and 0.9 Hispanic by hate crimes motivated by race, gender, faith, and sexuality and you'll have a complete and compelling case. As it stands its incomplete.

    As for the proportion of hate crimes versus regular crimes, quite frankly hate crimes don't pay very well. If crime rates in this country were so low that hate crimes formed a higher percentage, then we'd at least be solving a lot of other problems.

    As for your last figure, you need to clarify that the 3,709 whites and 3,304 blacks murdered were not all hate crimes. The greatest motivation for murder is economic, followed by crimes of passion. Hate crimes are a small proportion of actual murders. A hate crime isn't about killing the subject so much as it is a tool to terrorize people and communities.

    Finally, sign your posts. This anonymous nonsense is getting old.

    Luís Medina
    SY 09

  • Anonymous


    (Your should tell your own school to remove the option for anonymity, instead of quibbling about your own nonsense.)

    (Someone other than commentator 1.)