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PRO: Holiday destruction qualifies as hate crime

By BY SONNY LONG - SLONG@VICAD.COM
Nov. 15, 2009 at 5:15 a.m.
Updated Nov. 16, 2009 at 5:16 a.m.

The riverboat display is shown from a previous year during Cuero's Christmas in the Park. The display was damaged by vandals, along with an American flag and sea serpent display.

Seeing Christmas in the Park displays twisted and lights shattered angered and saddened many people, especially those closest to the 10th annual event in Cuero.

But does vandalism against holiday displays destroyed in the Cuero city park constitute a hate crime?

According to the U.S. Dept. of Justice, "Hate crime is the violence of intolerance and bigotry, intended to hurt and intimidate someone because of their race, ethnicity, national origin, religious, sexual orientation, or disability."

Some who volunteer for the Cuero display think the recent destruction could certainly qualify.

Jay Lewis, a career law enforcement officer and Christmas in the Park volunteer, said damaging holiday displays fits the criteria in his opinion.

"Because of what Christmas represents, celebrating the birth of Christ. Anyone who is against Christmas is against Christ. It should be a hate crime," he said.

His wife, Kay Lewis, president of the December Events Committee of the Cuero Development Corporation that puts on the annual event, agreed.

"I am not saying our specific vandalism was a hate crime, but I think if someone destroys or damages a Christmas display just because it is a Christmas display, then that certainly is a hate crime," said Kay Lewis. "It's just another way of trying to take Christ out of Christmas."

In Texas, state law includes damage of property as a hate crime under similar federal guidelines for personal attacks.

"Hate crimes are message crimes. They are different from other crimes in that the offender is sending a message to members of a certain group that they are unwelcome," said Jack McDevitt, a criminologist, in an American Psychological Association report on hate crime.

Jay Lewis also thinks the destruction of the American flag display constitutes a serious offense.

"I think it's a terrorist act because it's anti-American. It's against our nation and what our nation stands for. That's what the flag represents," he said. "I consider it an act of terrorism."

Related story: Con: Judge must establish intent of crime

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