Hurt by hate, local leaders and groups promote efforts to stem tide of extremism

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OVERLAND PARK, Kan. — It started out as a day like any other.

Mindy Corporon made breakfast for her family, took her younger son to a lacrosse game and sent off her older son, 14-year-old Reat Underwood, to the KC Superstars audition at the Jewish Community Center.

But just a couple of hours later, Underwood and his grandfather, 69-year-old William Corporon, would be dead.

They were murdered in the parking lot of the Jewish Community Center by Frazier Glenn Cross, a former Ku Klux Klan leader and white supremacist who was on a mission to kill Jews.

“(He) was sitting at the computer when I left. He was in a suit and tie and had on his hat and I said, ‘Good luck, I love you.’ And he said, ‘I love you too, Mom.’ And I did not know those were the last words I would hear him say,” Corporon recalled.

“It’s happening even more, it’s happening more often, and people are becoming emboldened and walking into synagogues, and walking into mosques and churches and murdering people. It’s horrific,” she continued.

Shannon Martinez has been part of the ugly prejudice that fuels the fire of hatred.

She was sexually assaulted as a teenager and the black sheep of her family. The reformed skinhead found acceptance in the white power movement.

“Very regularly we would go to synagogues and put anti-Semitic flyers under the windows of cars while they were in service,” she said. “Even though it was built on this hate and vile ideology, that it met, at least brokenly and twistedly, the needs that I had.”

“And in order to do that, we have to shut down our empathy so we can keep viewing other human beings, not as human beings but as potential threats to us.”

Many hate groups are focusing recruitment efforts on teens and college-aged adults, according to Karen Aroesty, regional director of the Anti-Defamation League.

She bases that on observed trends because compiling stats has become more and more difficult. Haters participate in new and different kinds of activities.

“As a youth or as a young person, you are in that difficult space where you are trying to find out who you are and where to attach. And if you are prepared for your circumstances to be blaming somebody else for where you are and the way you feel the way you do, even better,” Aroesty said.

“And so what we have seen over the last couple of decades is a capacity of the internet to not just educate folks, but allow them to come together in conspiracy, to allow them where like-minded haters are, and not just in the neighborhood, but far, far away.”

The radicalization stems far beyond white supremacy and anti-Semitism to include black supremacy, anti-LGBTQ, anti-Muslim, and so on.

The most recent statistics from the Southern Poverty Law Center tracks 24 hate groups in Missouri and four in Kansas.

In 2017, FBI statistics show 59% of hate crime victims were targeted because of race or ethnicity, 16% targeted based on religion and 10% for sexual orientation.

But simply hating or prejudicial actions and chatter does not rise to the level of a crime.

“There has to be use of force, willful bodily injury. The individual or property has to be targeted because of their race, religion, disability, ethnicity, sexual orientation or gender identity,” FBI spokeswoman Bridget Patton explained.

In 2017, FBI statistics show a 17% increase in the number of hate crimes reported, but that does not necessarily mean the problem has gotten worse.
In that year, about 1,000 more agencies reported hate crimes than the year before, thanks to an FBI initiative.

“They are training law enforcement across the nation to enhance this reporting to make sure there is training on what is a bias indicator for these hate crimes. The more we can train and get out there and be able to identify these potential incidents as hate crimes, the better reporting of that,” Patton said.

There are efforts to thwart hate as well.

Instead of being sucked into it, Kansas City Art Institute student Cordell Parham combats it. After attending the ADL’s no place for hate symposium, Parham began creating art as a way to stop hate before it escalates to a crime.

“My bottom line of my art is to promote positive messages that are able to make someone change their point of view. Not change everything about them, but say, ‘OK, this is an uncensored reaction to what I have seen,’ and maybe you will look at the person sitting next to you and you may not associate because of X, Y and Z. Maybe you will look a different way and reach out your hand and at least try and talk to them,” Parham said.

Once the spreader of hate and now an unlikely ally, to a victim of it, Martinez and Corporon are on the same team. Martinez speaks at the annual Seven Days event, put on by Corporon’s foundation, Faith Always Wins, which promotes kindness, faith and healing.

“So now I have been out of the movement for 25 years. I’m 45 years old, I have seven kids and I work on building prevention and disruption and disengagement programs for all kinds of hate and violence-based programs,” Martinez said.

“There are children in our area that are vulnerable, and parents need to pay attention. But I think adults, all adults, we have a responsibility to not let those kids fall through the cracks,” Corporon said.

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