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Hate Crimes Cause Individuals to Live in Fear For Just Existing.

I’ll admit, until a couple of weeks ago, I never thought I’d have the experience to write a piece on hateful crimes from a first-person point of view. That recently changed when a dear friend of mine came to visit from Houston. We had an amazing time and of course her visit was not going to end without a day on the beach in South Beach. Everything about the trip seemed pretty normal. We rented an umbrella at The Stanton and found a great spot. The beach was packed as usual with a mix of locals and tourists. We had been there for about an hour when we first noticed the inebriated lady in front of us. Every so often she would turn around and say something to us, but between 30 feet distance and the ocean breeze we couldn’t really understand what she was saying. What leaves me more baffled is that I initially exchanged words with this lady. She had asked me if I had a problem with her vaping. I said it was fine as there was a good amount of distance between us and I was sure we wouldn’t even have smelt it. She then asked me if I was part of the group of “Gringas” that had just left. I replied no, and went about my business. Again, later in the afternoon she just started yelling at us. We just couldn’t figure out what it was that we were doing that was causing this lady to get upset.

I suppose that’s the essence of a hate crime. Someone is usually going about their business just existing while the other person acts on some deep-rooted malice. The definition of a hate crime states its typically one involving violence, that is motivated by prejudice on the basis of race, religion, sexual orientation, or other grounds. If we look at this from an evolutionary standpoint, one would think and hope that we have evolved enough that 1.) we could learn to accept other people’s differences 2.) We could have a dialogue about our differences and maybe even admit our prejudices have no bases and just move on. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case for my friend. By now, the video from Local 10 News has over 1.5 million views on YouTube so there is no real reason to recount it. You can find the video here. What I want to talk about is the lasting effect this kind of behavior has on the victims. After all, I am working around the clock on a campaign surrounding ACE’s, Adverse Childhood Experiences. While this wasn’t an Adverse Childhood Experience, it was a traumatic experience and hate/hateful crimes are a harsh reality our youth are facing this day-in age. I will use this knowledge going forward to not only participate in the conversations regarding the aforementioned topic but also to spark change.

Now that my friend DeAnna is back home in Houston we’ve spoken about the incident several times. It’s remarkable to think back on how both of us have been transformed since the event. In hindsight, I’m able to identify clearly every stage of grief we have encountered. Here’s a break-down of my observations. Initially, we found the situation to be hilarious, for many reasons. We were in a stage of disbelief/denial and laughing about our failures is what kept us sane for the moment. Thankfully, we were together, and Deanna and I share enough of a martial arts background that we simply laughed at our failure to defend ourselves despite the amount of knowledge we possessed. We were clearly in the denial phase – “it’s fine, we’re fine.” Shortly thereafter, we entered into the next phase of grief, anger. After the incident happened we were so angered by the whole situation that we decided to not only call the cops but Local 10 too. She got away before the police arrived and there were so many supportive onlookers that we felt empowered to share the videos with the media. This phase clearly blended into the bargaining phase as we tried to justify it with – “nothing really happened to Deanna’s face.” Are you kidding me? It is not right to get attacked on the beach for no reason, regardless of the fact that she only whaled on her leg. It was wrong and where she hit her never should have mattered in our minds but in hindsight, that’s just what we were telling ourselves to cope. It took a few days to enter into the depression stage, in part because of the amount of times you have to recount the story for police reports, media, family and friends, it felt like it was the only things we talked about for days, and rightly so. It was traumatic but the process robs you of the ability to move on. When the reality of it all set in, it hit us hard.

For myself, it was a harsh reality of just how vulnerable I am after being outside in the Florida heat. I have re-played the scenario over in my head, endlessly. What could I have done differently, to help Deanna in the moment? The truth is, not much. You see, I avoid the heat like the plague. It is the single most difficult thing for me to manage with my Multiple Sclerosis and I really only go to the beach for special events. It leaves me feeling depleted of all energy and after being at the beach for over five hours, I actually told Deanna that I needed to take a quick nap to recharge to get enough energy to make it to the car and then drive home. That is when the lady attacked – when I was at my most vulnerable state. Once that reality set in, I had a good cry about it and decided that I should only return to the beach with a body guard and for very short stints. Seriously. She could have had a knife, or worse a gun. Things could’ve been a lot worse and I am one to adapt to life’s challenges. This was the second time in my life that I had a traumatic experience that I didn’t respond to, in my mind, adequately. The first was when I was a teenager at Smoothie King. I remember my back was to the door as I was watching the gentleman make my smoothie when all of a sudden I turned to hear someone yelling at me, with a gun pointing directly at my face. He was yelling at me to get on the ground. Thankfully, everyone was ok and he walked away with just the money from the cash register. For years I have laughed at the fact that on that same exact day in my martial arts class we were learning to take guns from individuals and turn them on them. It was impossible to do any of those moves as he was maybe 6 feet away, and you can’t walk into a scenario to take a gun, it must be within arm’s reach.

That incident, to this day, will cause me to sit with my eyes on the door, every time I go out to eat. My friends and family all know this bit of information and everyone reserves that one seat, at every restaurant, for me. Point is, traumas stay with you and unless you are willing and wanting to put in the hard work to get past them. You will always be stuck trying to find ways to adapt to avoid the same thing happening all over again. Your brain will find that experience so traumatic that for the rest of your life it will alter how you behave. That is not right and no one should have to experience that kind of brutal reprogramming of their brain. So, what do we do about it? How do we change it?

I have no idea as I feel like I joined the millions of outraged Americans wanting to spark change. Hopefully this doesn’t turn out like the pandemic, where enough of us suffer the severe consequences before we realize we needed to just mask up or in this case, have a conversation.

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