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Florida women win peacemaking award for work with hate crime project

Florida women win peacemaking award for work with hate crime project

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Florida women win peacemaking award for work with hate crime project

Jan. 24, 2005    News media contact:  Michael Wacht*    
407-897-1140     Orlando  {0236}

An e-Review Feature
By Jenna De Marco**

VIERA — Represented by social action coordinator Cindy Cosper, the Florida Conference United Methodist Women (UMW) recently accepted the "Blessed are the Peacemakers" award from the World Council of Churches.
The award was in observation of the World Council of Churches Decade to Overcome Violence project. The National Council of Churches of Christ USA recognized the UWW for its work in documenting hate crime in Florida and seven other states.
"It was a surprise ... a very wonderful honor for the Florida Conference of the UMW," Cosper said.
The UMW earned the tribute by collecting newspaper stories about incidences of hate crimes. Hate crimes were defined as those involving racism, bigotry, anti-Semitism, anti-gay and -Muslim sentiment, church burnings, and abortion clinic attacks.
"It was for cutting out the newspaper articles and sending them in," Cosper said. "It's been going on for 10 years. We lifted that up as an activity we wanted people to be involved in."
For about the past decade, the women clipped and mailed such articles to the Women's Division of the General Board of Global Ministries in New York City. From there, the Women's Division staff organized and reviewed the articles for content, then forwarded them to the Center for Democratic Renewal (CDR) in Atlanta, Ga. The CDR analyzes the articles, organizes them into its database and uses them to report accurate numbers of hate-crime incidences to national and state governments.
Lois Dauway, assistant general secretary for Christian social responsibility from the Women's Division in New York, noted all UMW chapters are participating in the project, but she especially praised the effort of Florida Conference women.
"The reason the Florida Conference was identified is because they did such an excellent job," Dauway said. "They always gave us good numbers and mastheads. They were also good about giving us follow-up articles."

From 1998 to 2000 readers clipped articles relating to 28 separate hate crimes in Florida and two "suspected" hate crimes, Dauway said. Additionally, 11 more articles were submitted about the racial climate in the state.
In the CDR 1998-2001 summary report, 1,702 articles had been received. Hate-crime activity was the highest in California and Florida, with each state experiencing 10 percent of the total activity.

The center categorized the articles in many ways. One breakdown listed 1,009 total hate crime project clippings, 576 total racial justice clippings and 117 total international clippings. An additional 240 informational articles were received on hate crimes, church burnings, the death penalty and hate-crime legislation.

Dauway said the UMW initiated the project "because we have a historic commitment to addressing issues of racial injustice from the beginnings of the work of the UMW and predecessor organizations."
Dauway also noted the relative ease with which UMW members could participate in this project.
"This is a doable project, and it's an important project, and it allows people to be involved ... but they are not at personal risk," Dauway. "We want people to participate (in social action), but we don't want to put our constituency in danger. Somebody who's interested in this could scour the paper."
Dauway said she has also seen readers increase their media literacy by participating in the project.
"It helped people be aware of what was going on in their own communities ... people began to read the newspapers differently," Dauway said.
On behalf of the Florida UMW, Cosper thanks all the women who contributed articles with the hope of making peace.
"The faithful efforts represent the ongoing," Cosper said. "We didn't just do this all in one year, and it takes time to get the word out and get people doing this, and they continue to do it."
Dauway said the CDR investigated the articles after receiving them. She cites the state of Alabama as an example. The women collected 10 to 15 articles documenting separate hate crimes for a particular year, while the state reported only one incidence that same year.
"The CDR would pursue the follow-up and adjudication and also provide data to some of the state attorneys offices that would document hate-crime activity," Dauway said.
Dauway said more articles are welcome. The clippings should be mailed to Women's Division, Re: Hate Crime Clippings, 475 Riverside Drive, Room 1502, New York, NY, 10115.


This article relates to Church and Society.

*Wacht is director of Florida United Methodist Communications and managing editor
of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**De Marco is a freelance writer based in Viera, Fla.