Canon Fodder
Stomping Out (Phony) Hate Crimes
By Matt Hutaff
May 3, 2004

I don't know whether to love or hate Kerri Dunn.

Dunn, a Claremont McKenna College psychology professor, defaced her car in March by slashing its tires, breaking its windows and spray painting ethnic slurs on the doors and hood the same day she gave a lecture on racial tolerance. Her goal was to raise awareness that racism exists on a campus that had recently seen a number of hate crimes perpetrated on its students.

Quite a way to stir things up, is it not?

The vandalism had the expected effect. Classes were cancelled while thousands of impressionable students rallied around the elimination of "ignorance." Dunn filed a police report and insurance claims to cover the damage to her car, and until witnesses came forward, no one on the campus knew they were victims of an elaborate hate crime hoax. Noticeably chagrined, Claremont suspended Dunn while they recovered from the embarrassment of the con.

Most people who perpetrate these stupid, divisive stunts are never punished. However, Dunn was charged last week with filing a false police report and two felony counts of insurance fraud. She potentially faces probation to six years in prison.


So do I hate Kerri Dunn for being one more scam artist preying on collegiate idealism and social mores, or do I applaud her exposure that it might finally blow open the door on hate crime hoaxes?

There are few things I hate more than con artists. Be you the President of the United States or a professor, in the end you're still selling a line of bullshit a mile wide. You're a liar, a charlatan and a waste of a human being. It is just plain evil to abuse something as sensitive as a social division to promote one's own agenda, particularly if it desensitizes people to the real problem. There is enough tension in the world today between the various ethnicities, sexualities and religions without people like Dunn riling up the populace with imagined hatred.

So why are so few hoaxers penalized for the repercussions of their actions? After all, when people perjure themselves in court or give the police the runaround, they can face fines and jail time. Why the lack of accountability?

Because a hate crime is a subject that doesn't invite a lot of scrutiny. If someone comes forward as the victim of a hate crime, you tend to believe them, particularly on a college campus, where this kind of sensitivity is very acute.

It's precisely because of this idealism that college students fall victim to these hate hoaxes. They have time to be more active and passionate about a cause they believe in as well in campus life, a subculture of its own. A hate crime is an affront to them.

"A person who is a victim of a hate crime can probably expect to get almost universal sympathy on a college campus," said South Poverty Law Center researcher Mark Potok. "You are very likely to get the support of the administration, the faculty and virtually all the students."

And that's a good thing, when a true victim is violated and needs all the support they can get. Anyone has a right to be angry when a friend or colleague is mistreated or persecuted for something as stupid as the color of their skin. It's the manipulation of this well-being by another that really drives me nuts.

Leah Miller, a black student at San Francisco State, admitted to writing racial epithets on her own door because she wanted "to be a part of something." Another black SFSU student, Allison Jackson, pulled the same stunt — because she wanted to change her housing assignment.

These are trivial compared to what Dunn did in March. A student seeking some trivial attention or a better roommate is one thing; can you imagine the ramifications if a teacher you respected and believed claimed someone sprayed "nigger lover" and "kike whore" on their car?

The possibilities to manipulate someone's emotions through a ploy like that are endless and very scary.

Think I'm downplaying the gravity of how dangerous Dunn's actions were? In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, Stanford sociologist Lee Ross admitted that "doing this may actually have accomplished some of [Dunn's] goals, if her goal was to make people feel that racism was present and that there was danger of white backlash."

There is no backlash. There was never any crime. Yet Dunn has imprinted in thousands of people the feeling that hatred and paranoia are on the surface of our society and that it can break through at any moment. What's more frightening — the lie, or the resulting prejudice?

Over 2,000 hate crimes were reported in 2002 in the state of California alone. 175 took place on a college campus. It took just one to call all the others into question.

How many more people are damaging their property or their person to gain sympathy from a bunch of strangers? How much racism and hatred is really out there if the perpetrators are making all of the attacks up?

The worst result of all this is that future victims of real crimes may choose not to come forward, or that the definition of what a hate crime is will change as fewer and fewer people believe that what really happened was wrong.

That's why it's so important that Kerri Dunn face the music for what she's done. Inciting racial violence doesn't help anyone. Getting thousands of kids to march against faked intolerance only robs them of real activism and a day of class. A day of class that should be reimbursed to those who pay their tuition to receive an education, not faux political correctness.

Dunn needs to realize that she is not the victim, she's the victimizer. And she needs to pay with jail time and a fine, as a warning to all who use people to achieve their own misguided ends.

Canon Fodder is a weekly analysis of politics and society.

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