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Michigan Hate Crimes Conference: Housing and Hate Crimes

September 14, 2012

This is the first of several articles based on presentations taking place at the Michigan Response to Hate Conference in East Lansing.

The first presenter at today’s Michigan Hate Crimes Conference was Brian Greene, with the US Department of Housing and Urban Development. Greene provided an overview of hate crimes and racism and its lasting impact on housing in America.

Greene began by talking about the history of the KKK in the US and Michigan. The Klan had numerous large rallies in Michigan prior to WWII, with a major rally taking place in Grand Rapids in 1925, as can be seen in this photo.

Greene then discussed the case of Dr. Henry Sweet, who challenged the norms of White Supremacy in Detroit by buying a house in an all White neighborhood. Sweet and his family were the target of violence, which led to a famous legal case involving Clarence Darrow.

These historical examples were used by Greene to provide a framework for ongoing hate crimes against minorities who dared to move into all White neighborhoods or communities. One recent example that Greene provide was of a hate crime committed in 2010, where an undocumented Mexican immigrant was murdered because he was Mexican, a case that is the subject of a new film, Shenandoah.

Greene provided a few other examples, in particular a case in New York involving John White. White was a Black homeowner in a predominantly White neighborhood in Long Island. Smith’s son was one of a few Black students at the local high school. His son was at a party one night and was asked to leave based on a fake social media posting that claimed White’s son was a rapist.

White’s son left and went home, but was followed by a group of White students who made threats against White. When the boy arrived at home he told his father he was being threatened by this group of White students. The White students arrived, they made racial threats  against the father and son. Mr. White was holding a pistol when it was knocked out of his hand, by one of the White students. The gun went off and one of the White boys was shot. During the trial White argued that he was defending his family. White went to jail, but was later released based on a new ruling after the courts acknowledged the role that racial hatred played in this case.

By way of conclusion, Greene made the point again that the current housing disparity and discrimination in the US is rooted in this history of racial hatred that is manifested today.

One issue that Greene did not address was how gentrification fits into the institutional discrimination against racial minorities and the working class poor in urban centers across the country.

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