Kansas has a lot of pride in its history as a place where whites took real risks to end slavery.
But it’s also a place of a lot of hate.
Like yesterday at K-State, where a black student found his car, parked near campus, vandalized with racist slurs and threats. They included the words “Go Home”–suggesting that the hate criminals who did this knew that the target wasn’t from Kansas. And the student has, indeed, chosen to return to his native California.
Above, images from a student’s car that was graffitied with hateful words at Kansas State University in Manhattan, Kansas, yesterday. Note that racial epithets have been removed in the photo.
K-State has seen a number of hateful incidents on campus, including the display of a noose from a tree this past spring.
The university has responded is some practical ways, like increasing police patrols. But there is so much work to be done here. Key to any real change is recognizing that the folks who do such acts likely aren’t outsiders but people who feel quite at home at the university. In fact, they feel so at home there that they think they get to decide who belongs and who doesn’t. That, along with the very specific details about the victim’s dating life, is a good sign that such acts are being committed by people within the community.
On the same day, Petra Mediterranean Restaurant in Wichita was burned to the ground in a hate crime. The restaurant was owned by Syrian immigrants who have been in the US for more than 15 years. It had been open for only a few months. In addition to setting the restaurant on fire, the hate criminals spray painted the words “Go Back” on a storage unit behind the building. Earlier in the year, someone had sprayed graffiti on a window, but the owners had chosen to ignore that crime and not view it as an act of hate. Now, though, they wonder.
Above, the storage unit behind Petra Mediterranean Restaurant.
And they should. Hate crime actors often begin with small acts, testing whether the community of whites–who are their recruiting targets–will step up. They hang a noose or post a flyer and wait to see the reaction. If white people in the community step up to actually combat hate and care for victims, a hate actor will often move on to a place where they won’t. If the response is a quiet “investigation” that leads no where, a toothless statement from local leaders about “unity,” or a response only from members of the group targeted, they stick around. And the attacks get bolder–just as they’ve done at K-State. Just as they did at Petra.
Kansas has a lot of hate activity. The February murder of Srinivas Kuchibhotla as he drank a beer with some buddies at a sports bar in Olathe. The murderer, it won’t surprise you, shouted “Get out of my country!” as he opened fire. The “Crusaders” of Garden City who, last fall, planned to blow up an apartment building of Somali immigrants. The murder of a a woman visiting her father in a nursing home and a man and his grandson–a physician and a high schooler who loved theater, debate, hunting, and fishing and had earned his Eagle Scout–as they attended rehearsal of To Kill a Mockingbird by an anti-Semite in 2014.
In other words, hate crimes in Kansas are common. Which means we need to look for what is common about them (“Go home/Go back” is a major theme)–and what makes Kansas a place where they can happen.