Wednesday, May 14, 2008

A community forum was held Monday in Mesa, Arizona, to discuss a recent attack on two Mormon teenagers which took place May 2 at a park in Gilbert. Local representatives from the NAACP and the Phoenix Anti-Defamation League attended the meeting, where local police met with area residents and concerned citizens to discuss the incident. Approximately 60 residents of Mesa attended the forum, which was hosted by the Mesa Police Department and held at the Mesa Public Safety Training Facility.

Local police investigated the attack, and arrested two teenagers. According to the police the two suspects ages 15 and 16 have carved swastikas into their skin on the inside of their wrists, and allegedly beat the Mormon teenagers and attacked them using pellet guns. According to a police report, one of the teens sustained golf-ball-size swelling and cuts to his face. One of the victims of the attack was transported to the hospital. Police said that the suspects made anti-Mormon statements during the attack.

Terrea Arnwine, vice president of the East Valley NAACP, discussed the history of hate crimes and related the origins of his organization. “I immediately spoke up when I heard about the incident with LDS,” said Mesa police Chief George Gascón. LDS refers to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, also called the Mormon Church or LDS Church.

This is America; this isn’t supposed to happen here. This is the legacy we have been left with — unfortunately it is oftentimes not true.

“This is America; this isn’t supposed to happen here. This is the legacy we have been left with — unfortunately it is oftentimes not true,” said Anti-Defamation League representative Bill Strauss. According to the Arizona Department of Public Safety, 254 incidents were reported in 2003 involving hate crimes, though Strauss said that the actual number of incidents could be higher due to underreporting.

The Gilbert Human Relations Commission also discussed the incident in a meeting Wednesday. “It’s an abysmal, and abominable occurrence, and yet it’s extremely rare, and I think that speaks volumes of our community,” said Patricia Krueger of the Human Relations Commission.

Detective Terry Burchett of the Gilbert Police Department conducted interviews with 20 to 30 individuals as part of the investigation into the attack. According to police, a conflict arose between two groups of teenagers at a park in Gilbert, and some teenagers were asked by others if any in their group were Mormon. The victims later told police that they were attacked because they are Mormon.

According to The Arizona Republic, police are not yet certain that the attack should be considered a hate crime. Both teenagers have been charged with underage drinking, disorderly conduct and aggravated assault, and were booked into the Maricopa County Juvenile Detention Facility. According to KNXV-TV one of the suspects is a football player at Mesquite High School in Gilbert.

I broke down, I just, I couldn’t believe the way he looked.

The parents of the victims spoke with KNXV-TV reporter Christina Boomer. The victims are ages 15 and 17. The parents of one of the victims said that their son’s face was pushed into the gravel and that he sustained a fractured collarbone, and the father of the other victim said his son has a broken nose and fractured cheekbone from the attack, in addition to facial lacerations.

One of the teens’ mothers stated: “I broke down, I just, I couldn’t believe the way he looked.” “No parents should see their kids in that kind of situation … I don’t believe that anybody should be persecuted for their beliefs or their faith,” said the father of the same teenager.

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