Wednesday, August 22, 2012

America's foremost crusader against hate crimes

Morris Dees is America's foremost crusader against hate crimes. He co-founded the Southern Poverty Law Center, a nonprofit group of lawyers that specializes in civil-rights violations and racially motivated crimes.  The center exposes and undermines American hate groups, ranging from the Ku Klux Klan to anti-government militias.

In 1981, when Klan members lynched a black man in Mobile, Dees and the Southern Poverty Law Center sued the Klan for inciting violence and won a $7-million judgment. The importance of this victory cannot be overstated. The precedent was established that criminals cannot hide behind organizations. Membership in groups that espouse and encourage crime makes the member liable for damages caused.

Dees also successfully prosecuted and won a $12-million judgment against Tom Metzger, racist leader of the hate group known as "White Aryan Resistance". Metzger had encouraged some skinheads in Portland, Oregon to "defend the Aryan race" by violence. Later that day, when Metzger was far away, the young men beat and stomped an innocent Ethiopian man named Mulugeta Seraw, to death. Dees established Metzger as the proximate cause of the crime and make him accountable. In these two cases, Dees was able to attribute the murders to the hateful beliefs of a larger organization, thus "holding accountable once and for all" groups that advocate violence as a means for advancing their ideas, he said.

Dees' life has been threatened on many occasions, and the vicious hate group known as "The Order" actually planned to kidnap and torture him prior to their capture by the authorities. Yet he continues to crusade against hatred, racial injustice and the abuse of the desperately poor. He denies any status as a hero, but his quiet determination that evil will not go unremarked or unchallenged marks Morris Dees as a great man, and is what makes him one of our heroes.

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