We were waiting – and it’s here: the Age of the Hate Crime.

Photo/illustration Ryn Gargulinski

Photo/illustration Ryn Gargulinski

We already have an accusation going down in Phoenix, according to a report in the Arizona Republic.

Juan Varela, 44, a third-generation Mexican-American, was shot dead May 6 while outside watering a tree in his Phoenix yard.

Varela’s neighbor, 50-year-old Gary Thomas Kelley, was arrested for the killing and is facing charges of second-degree murder.

Kelley allegedly stuck a gun in Varela’s neck and pulled the trigger. Police initially said the reason behind the killing was either an ongoing feud between the two neighbors or a case of Kelley being drunk and disgruntled – Kelley was holding a beer when arrested.

Varela’s family wants the slaying classified as a hate crime. And now police are saying well, OK maybe.

“Investigators said (Kelley), who was arrested immediately after the shooting, repeated a racial slur several times and told Varela to ‘go back to Mexico’ or he would die,” the Republic reports. “Phoenix police Bias Crimes Unit investigators are looking into the allegations of a hate crime.

“The victim’s brother and mother, Antonio and Paula Varela, each filed harassment injunctions against Kelley this week in (Maricopa County) Superior Court.”

No killing is a good killing – but those motivated by bias are even more senseless and tragic.

If convicted, Kelley genuinely deserves punishment that fits the magnitude and motivation of the crime.

And now the floodgates have been opened.

Every other killing, assault, robbery, car crash and bike theft may now come riddled with accusations of being a hate crime.

Just watch.

A quick glance at FBI statistics show 9,691 people were victims of hate crimes across the nation in 2008. The total number of violent crimes for that period was more than 1.3 million.

The majority of the hate crimes, 51 percent, were motivated by race with anti-black crimes at the top (anti-white placed second); nearly 18 percent were motivated by religion with anti-Jewish at the top; more than 17 percent were motivated by sexual orientation with anti-male homosexuals at the top; 12 percent were motivated by ethnicity or national origin with anti-Hispanic at the top; and nearly 1 percent were motivated by a disability, with anti-mental disability over anti-physical disability.

Arizona reported 185 hate crime incidents for 2008, a total that represented 6 million residents, which happens to be on par with the population of the entire state. The number of residents listed in these state statistics reflect the “population represented” by the reporting agencies, which is not necessarily the state’s entire population.

Keeping the population in mind, Arizona was still not near the top of the list.

California, with 36 million residents represented, reported 1,381; New Jersey, 8 million represented, reported 744; New York, 17 million represented, reported 570; Michigan, 9 million represented, reported 560; Ohio, 9 million represented, reported 345; and Massachusetts, 6 million represented, reported 333.

The states with the fewest hate crimes reported include Mississippi, with a represented population of 750,000, with four; Wyoming, represented population 500,000, with six; Alaska, represented population 280,000, with eight; and Georgia, represented population 550,000, with nine. The full state statistic table is available at www.fbi.gov/ucr/hc2008/data/table_12.html

Since the “fever pitch” of anguish and anger over illegal immigration issues does not look like it’s going to break anytime soon, we should keep an eye on Arizona hate crime statistics to see if they do, in fact, increase.

The fever’s fire is also being constantly fed with more potential boycotts, like the rumor of Major League Baseball’s All-Star Game moving out of Phoenix and interpretations of the Arizona law that read something like the description found in the Republic article.

“Arizona’s new law makes it a crime to be in the state illegally.” Is it not already a crime to be in the country illegally?

But maybe that’s not the point. The point is the law was never enforced. Ugly things happen when big issues are consistently ignored, only to rear up and bite us in the kneecap. We’re witnessing those things right now.

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What do you think?

Are you outta here yet?

Will this “fever pitch” die down anytime soon?

Have you or someone you know been the victim of a hate crime? Was it prosecuted as such?

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What do you think?