Official Magazine of the Denver Bar Association

The Hate Crimes Education Task Force ~ By Docket Committee Co-Chair Kaelyn Gustafson

As he left his home Friday morning, local math teacher Dr. Mohamed Mustafa discovered an unloaded replica assault rifle next to his garage door below a red spray-painted message that read “Muslim Terrorists Go Home.” Dr. Mustafa is a distinguished scholar who has dedicated his teaching career to propelling talented high school students in the study of mathematics, personally funding a $5,000 scholarship to his top students each year. He received his bachelor’s, master’s and doctorate degrees from Harvard. Dr. Mustafa’s students highly regard him and he them. The troubling discovery caused Dr. Mustafa to lock himself inside his home and phone local authorities.

Detectives eventually detained one of Dr. Mustafa’s students who is alleged to have carried out these crimes after learning that he did not receive Dr. Mustafa’s coveted mathematics scholarship. The district attorney has indicated she intends to charge the young man under Colorado’s Bias-Motivated Crimes Statute, more commonly referred to as the “Hate Crimes Law.”

The above narrative likely stirs tension in a national atmosphere already taut with political and social tension. Fortunately, the above is just simply that — a fictional narrative. But, just as every Law and Order episode reminds its faithful viewers, “The following story is fictional and does not depict any actual person or event,” its core is resplendent with factual biases that are unfortunately all too real.

The reality of these occurrences led members of the Colorado Lawyers Committee (CLC) to create the Hate Crimes Education Task Force. The CLC started in 1978 and is a group of more than 60 Colorado law firms committed to improving conditions for children and the underprivileged by donating their time and money to give free legal work to groups of people. Volunteers use various methods to accomplish their goals: They advocate and try to persuade lawmakers to change laws; they negotiate with opponents; they educate students and adults; and they even file lawsuits when necessary. All of the volunteers do this for free because they believe very strongly in improving Colorado and its communities.

The CLC formed the “Hate Crimes, Youth Decide” program following a period of particularly troubling turmoil in Colorado. In 1992, during Martin Luther King Day observances, violent protests erupted as police clashed with Ku Klux Klan demonstrators on the state capitol steps. A few months later, lawyers of the CLC created the fictional trial program. The above narrative represents a snippet of the complex case presented to junior high, high school, college students and community groups across Colorado.

Throughout the program, lawyers volunteer to play the parts of prosecutor, defense attorney and judge. The students play the role of the jury. Aside from educating them on the Hate Crime law, the mock trial also encourages students to openly discuss inherent biases and stereotyping, as well as the role they play in unwittingly perpetuating them. The students intelligently and poignantly engage in discussions on diversity in their community and the value of preventing the spread of racial slurs and hateful actions.

The program needs volunteers to serve as prosecutors, defense attorneys and facilitators. It is a great opportunity for lawyers to practice their advocacy skills in front of a live audience and for non-litigators and non-lawyers to be involved in a fun activity that makes a difference. For more information on volunteering for the Hate Crimes Education Task Force, contact Christine Snider at snider@ballardspahr.com. The Task Force is co-chaired by Tarek Saad (Squire Patton Boggs LLP), Phyllis Wan (Hogan Lovells US), Beth Ann Lennon (Sherman & Howard) and John McHugh (Reilly Pozner). D

K.GustafsonKaelyn Gustafson is a judicial law clerk to the Honorable Rebecca Freyre on the Colorado Court of Appeals. She can be reached at kaelyn.gustafson@judicial.state.co.us.

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