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NCLR Death Threat Punished in Court of Law

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Originally posted at wecanstopthehate.org

Christopher Michael Szaz was sentenced today in North Carolina for emailing a death threat to the staff of the National Council of La Raza (NCLR). Szaz plead guilty to one count of threat by force via email communication to NCLR. He was sentenced to 45 days in federal prison and has to serve 100 hours of community service. In his email to NCLR, Szaz referred to Hispanics using a racial epithet and threatened to kill members of the staff and splay their bodies. NCLR and other community advocates believe that this has to be seen as a part of a larger pattern of hate directed at immigrants, as the debate on immigration continues to loom in the national psyche. Szaz's prosecution sends an important message to others engaging in this type of action that it is a federal crime punishable in a court of law.

During a press conference this Tuesday outside the federal courthouse in Raleigh, North Carolina, NCLR President and CEO Janet Murguía stated that there was a difference between healthy debate and hate speech. She went on to say:

"This case is an important reminder that the use of death threats and hate speech is against the law and, if prosecuted, people will serve time. We encourage the Department of Justice to begin to take these offenses more seriously. Unfortunately, these types of crimes are the result of a pattern and practice of hate speech and harassment that has been unleashed during the debate on immigration reform. Free speech does not give anyone license to make death threats, and the First Amendment does not protect hate crimes.

As an organization, we believe in the spirited debate of issues. We recognize that many will not agree with our positions or be moved by our rhetoric. We uphold and support the right to free speech in this country and are an ardent defender of civil liberties. But we also recognize that civil discourse should not be a cloak to disguise hate and injustice.

Words have consequences, and hateful words have hateful consequences. The rhetoric used by many in this debate has created an environment of fear within our community. It also has created a climate of empowerment for those like Christopher Szaz who want to act on their hate."

Also participating in the conference were Andrea Bazán, NCLR Board Chair and President of the Triangle Community Foundation; Tony Asion, Executive Director of El Pueblo, Inc.; and Reverend Dr. William Barber II, NAACP North Carolina State Director.

"The bible says the power of life and death is in the tongue," said Reverend Barber. "The NAACP stands with the immigrant community and deplores and detests how they are being treated now, because we know history." He went on to say that hate crimes are not a new thing. "Forty-five years ago, four little girls were killed at a Baptist church in Alabama." Forty-five years later, the silence of public officials is still deafening. He asked politicians to stop scapegoating communities of color for political purposes, as that was a part of the problem.

Tony Asion, who spoke as both the Executive Director of El Pueblo and also as a former police officer, shared that he had received death threats on a daily basis. He stated that in this day and age it should be unacceptable.

According to the FBI, hate crimes targeting Latinos have risen steadily in the last few years. Through its website, http://www.wecanstopthehate.org/, NCLR has been working to raise awareness of this increase and the ties to white supremacy and eugenics that many of the anti-immigrant groups have.

Although the target of Szaz's hate was a national group, the rise of national hate crimes also has local implications. Andrea Bazán is a Latina activist in North Carolina, and the Triangle Community Foundation is one of North Carolina's largest foundations. Ms. Bazán said that Szaz's threats were part of what prompted NCLR to invest $100,000 in increased security measures and for her to feel compelled to ask Durham police for frequent checks at her home. A recent article in the Raleigh News & Observer documented the threats against her and Mr. Asion.

In an ironic twist of fate, it has come to light that Szaz's Hungarian-born father, now deceased, was an immigrant activist in Washington.

To view a copy of the impact victim statement, please visit http://www.nclr.org/.

To read more about the case, visit http://www.newsobserver.com/news/story/1239144.html and http://www.wral.com/news/local/image/3646931/.