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Obama Win Prompts Wave of Hate Crimes

Hannah Strange

Signs hang on the office door of University of Alabama professor Marsha L. Houston, Thursday, Nov. 13, 2008, in Tuscaloosa, Ala., as Houston posted a message against racism after someone defaced a previous poster of Barack Obama and his family with a death threat and racial slur. (AP Photo/Jay Reeves)

Barack Obama's election as America's first black president has unleashed a
wave of hate crimes across the nation, according to police and monitoring

Far from heralding a new age of tolerance, Mr Obama's victory in the November
4 poll has highlighted the stubborn racism that lingers within some elements
of American society as opponents pour their frustration into vandalism,
harassment, threats and even physical attacks.

Cross burnings, black figures hung from nooses, and schoolchildren chanting
"Assassinate Obama" are just some of the incidents that have been documented
by police from California to Maine.

There have been "hundreds" of cases since the election, many more
than usual, said Mark Potok, director of the Intelligence Project at the
Southern Poverty Law Center, which monitors hate crimes.

The phenomenon appears to be at its most intense in the Southern states, where
opposition to Mr Obama is at its highest and where reports of hate crimes
were emerging even before the election. Incidents involving adults, college
students and even schoolchildren have dampened the early post-election glow
of racial progress and harmony, with some African American residents
reporting an atmosphere of fear and inter-community tension.

In North Carolina, four students at the state university admitted writing
anti-Obama comments in a tunnel designated for free speech expression,
including one that said: "Let's shoot that (N-word) in the head."
Mr Obama has received more threats than any other president-elect,
authorities say.

Marsha L. Houston, a University of Alabama professor, said a poster of the
Obama family was ripped off her office door. A replacement poster was
defaced with a death threat and a racial slur. "It seems the election
brought the racist rats out of the woodwork," Ms Houston said.

Second and third-grade students on a school bus in Rexburg, Idaho, chanted "assassinate
Obama," a district official said.

Meanwhile in Snellville, Georgia, Denene Millner, an African-American, said a
boy on the school bus told her nine-year-old daughter the day after the
election: "I hope Obama gets assassinated." That night, someone
trashed her sister-in-law's front lawn, mangled the Obama lawn signs, and
left two pizza boxes filled with human faeces outside the front door, Ms
Millner said.

She described her emotions as a combination of anger and fear.

"I can't say that every white person in Snellville is evil and anti-Obama
and willing to desecrate my property because one or two idiots did it,"
Ms Millner said. "But it definitely makes you look a little different
at the people who you live with, and makes you wonder what they're capable
of and what they're really thinking."

But the incidents have not been restricted to areas of high anti-Obama
sentiment. Even states and cities which leaned heavily towards the Democrat
have seen their share.

In New York, a black teenager said he was attacked with a bat on election
night by four white men who shouted "Obama", while in the Pittsburgh suburb
of Forest Hills, a black man said he found a note with a racial slur on his
car windshield, saying "now that you voted for Obama, just watch out
for your house."

In the north-eastern state of Maine, customers at a general store in Standish
were placing $1 bets on when the president-elect would be killed. A sign
inside the Oak Hill General Store read: "Osama Obama Shotgun Pool."
"Stabbing, shooting, roadside bombs, they all count," it said. At
the bottom of the marker board was written "Let's hope someone wins."


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Black figures were hung by nooses from trees on Mount Desert Island, Maine,
the Bangor Daily News reported, while crosses were burned in yards of Obama
supporters in Hardwick, New Jersey, and Apolacan Township, Pennsylvania. In
Massachussetts, a nearly-finished church belonging to a black congregation
was burned to the ground just hours after Mr Obama's victory was declared.

Racist graffiti was found in places including New York's Long Island, where
two dozen cars were spray-painted; Kilgore, Texas, where the local high
school and skate park were defaced; and the Los Angeles area, where
swastikas, racial slurs and "Go Back To Africa" were spray painted
on sidewalks, houses and cars.

Mr Potok, who is white, said he believes there is "a large subset of
white people in this country who feel that they are losing everything they
know, that the country their forefathers built has somehow been stolen from

Grant Griffin, a 46-year-old white Georgia native, expressed similar
sentiments: "I believe our nation is ruined and has been for several
decades and the election of Obama is merely the culmination of the change.

"If you had real change it would involve all the members of (Obama's)
church being deported," he said.

Change in whatever form does not come easy, and a black president is "the
most profound change in the field of race this country has experienced since
the Civil War," said William Ferris, senior associate director of the
Center for the Study of the American South at the University of North
Carolina. "It's shaking the foundations on which the country has
existed for centuries."

"Someone once said racism is like cancer," Mr Ferris said. "It's
never totally wiped out - it's in remission."

The day after the vote, Barbara Tyler, a black high school student in
Marietta, Georgia, said she heard hateful comments about Mr Obama from white
students, and that teachers cut off discussion about his victory.

Ms Tyler spoke at a press conference by the Georgia chapter of the civil
rights body NAACP which discussed complaints from across the state about
hostility and resentment. Another student, from a Covington middle school,
said he was suspended for wearing an Obama shirt to school on November 5
after the principal told students not to wear political paraphernalia.

The student's mother, Eshe Riviears, said the principal told her: "Whether
you like it or not, we're in the South, and there are a lot of people who
are not happy with this decision."

Sociologists said African-Americans suffering attacks and intimidation were
essentially proxies for the frustrated emotions of some whites.

"The principle is very simple," said BJ Gallagher, a sociologist and
co-author of the diversity book 'A Peacock in the Land of Penguins.' "If
I can't hurt the person I'm angry at, then I'll vent my anger on a
substitute, i.e., someone of the same race."

"We saw the same thing happen after the 9-11 attacks, as a wave of
anti-Muslim violence swept the country. We saw it happen after the Rodney
King verdict, when Los Angeles blacks erupted in rage at the injustice
perpetrated by 'the white man.'

"It's as stupid and ineffectual as kicking your dog when you've had a bad
day at the office," Mr Gallagher said. "But it happens a lot."

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