In the Dark: Hate crimes go unreported, unnoticed

Miami senior Nick Gilyard nestles against the curb along Kentucky Street, the site where, several weeks ago, a group of men accosted him with racial slurs and hurled a cup of ice as they sped by in their car. “I watch movies about racism and I’ve read about it,” Gilyard said on Sunday. “You think you have a handle on it, but it makes me feel different having something like that happen to me.” (Brian Powers/HERALD)

Michael McKay

Nick Gilyard doesn’t walk by himself at night anymore.

What happened to the Miami senior two weeks ago may have been classified as a hate crime, according to KRS 532.031. The state statute makes the acts of aggression against a person “intentionally because of race, color, religion, sexual orientation or national origin” a felony.

Lawyers say the act seems to fit the description of a hate crime.  Gilyard is still affected by it. 

“I walked down Kentucky Street, then through campus, so I had to walk back past where it happened,” he said. “Just like, being outside in the daylight, honestly everyone that I walked past — I just felt like things looked different, it just felt different. I feel different.

“I feel like nobody knows what happened to me last night and it just felt so weird.”

Gilyard was walking back from his Spirit Masters meeting to his apartment on Kentucky Street to grab books to study with a friend at The Registry apartment complex. He was in black slacks, carrying his briefcase.

“I was barely 1,000 feet from the Kentucky Street Apartments and a black SUV was riding past me,” he said. “And as it approached, I saw the guy roll down his window, and then from the passenger side a guy started to hang out the window,”  — he hesitates before he repeats the words — “he yells ‘You stupid fucking nigger!’

“I immediately turn and I see him reach back and I didn’t know what to do,” Gilyard said.

He dropped down to the ground out of instinct. 

“A cup of ice hit me and went all over the [ground],” Gilyard said. “I sat there for what felt like forever.”

At this point, Gilyard was a short sprint away from his on-campus apartment building. He plastered himself to the sidewalk, and a flood of thoughts swirled through in his head during time he spent there.  

“‘Are they going to circle around?’ ‘Are they going to stop and get out, like is this going to turn physical?’ I was also thinking like, ‘Did I do something?’” he said.

Gilyard said he’s always felt perfectly safe at WKU, but that night was different.

“My heart was fluttering and I was just lying there wondering, like, ‘I hope this is as far as it goes, and I hope I’m not going to die on Kentucky Street,’” he said.

Shaken, he got off the ground and looked around for anyone else who saw. No one was there to bear witness.

He said two other cars passed by as he was on the ground, but “I guess it didn’t look out of the norm for anybody,” he said. 

With nothing else to do, he kept walking to The Registry and knocked on his friend’s door.

“He opened the door and I just started crying,” Gilyard said.

Unreported, unknown 

There isn’t a police report for what happened on Kentucky Street. Gilyard chose not to file one — in part because he felt he didn’t have enough information to give the police.

After posting about his experience on Facebook, he was contacted by the Judicial Affairs office and met with the director, Michael Crowe. In the meeting, Gilyard decided not to file a university report, either.

Michael Crowe did not respond to interview requests.

Frank LoMonte, executive director of the Student Press Law Center, said in an email that WKU doesn’t have a strong legal obligation to report a hate crime internally or with police.

“There generally is not any duty to call the police on any particular crime, and since I assume there is no way of knowing whether the assailants were or were not students, the college does not even have a duty to open a disciplinary case — unless someone identifies the assailants as students,” LoMonte said.

If what happened to Gilyard was a hate crime — an experience which LoMonte said seems to fit the description of one — not reporting it to police puts the incident in line with the nearly two out of every three hate crimes that go unreported around the country, according to the most recent statistics released by the Department of Justice.

It would have been the first incident fitting the “hate crime” description reported at WKU in at last seven years.

Howard Bailey, vice president for Academic Affairs, couldn’t remember the last time a hate crime had been reported at WKU.

“I’d have to do some digging,” Bailey said.

Bailey said he’s disappointed that Gilyard’s incident wasn’t officially reported, even if it means there would be a “blemish” on the university’s record.

“My deeper concern is that he didn’t know to report it,” Bailey said.

Bailey said he worries that today’s students of color don’t have the same kind of “psychological programming” to protect themselves from negative racial encounters.

He said he talked to a faculty member who prompted her students to write about a negative racial experience they had.

“She was startled that so many of today’s student felt that they had never had one,” Bailey said. “Yet when she gave them examples, it was an ‘Ah Ha’ moment. ‘I’ve never seen that as race,’ [they said].”

The Colorblind Generation

Assistant Professor of journalism, Benjamin LaPoe, is writing a book on “Multicultural Politics.” As a professor that works in diversity, he said the way the younger generation views race is a topic that often comes up in conversation.

“When you talk to them about race and some of the issues that our society has had with race in the past, and you ask them if racism still exists, they don’t see it as much,” LaPoe said. “And in a lot of ways this is a positive societal marker, right? It may mean that racism isn’t as prevalent as it once was, which is probably true. However … they don’t see some of the racial things that still do exist.”

He said it’s historically consistent that victims of hate crimes wouldn’t step forward. The way we talk about race has changed from explicit conversations to implicit ones.

“Our society now desires to be more equal, and with that, when explicitly racial conservations are noticed, we immediately reject that as racist, we don’t want that around,” he said.

LaPoe said that kind of environment gives students of color less incentive to report a negative encounter.

“All it’s going to do is draw attention to my race and I’ll get labeled as someone who is playing the race card, which you hear a lot of nowadays,” he said.

Gilyard said that as an openly gay man, he’s been preparing for aggression based on his sexual orientation.

“I’ve prepared myself since high school, my senior year of high school, that one day I could be walking somewhere and just because of the way that I dress that somebody might call me a ‘faggot,’ Gilyard said. “That’s the word that I’ve been gearing up for.”

That’s why the racial slur was so shocking to him.

“Most people want to think that we’re so far past that point, when you think, ‘What are the chances that someone is going to call you the “N” word on a random Wednesday night?’” he said. “You don’t think something like that is going to happen.”

Bailey said the university has to better prepare students, particularly students of color, on how to deal with and identify racial slights in “the real world” outside of WKU.

“These young professionals going out and getting literally chewed up in the workplace because of racial issues,” he said. “They don’t see it coming.”

Andrea Garr-Barnes, director of the office of Institutional Diversity and Inclusion, shares that goal. 

She said Gilyard’s willingness to talk about his experience is an important step but not the only step. She said public events and data gathering is key to understanding if “structural changes” need to happen at WKU.

“When something like that happens, we as a community with as many members of the community as possible have to stand up with and behind the person to say loudly and in unison ‘We will not tolerate hate,’” she said.

Garr-Barnes said there are plans to have this happen. She said her office is working to stage a “March Against Hate” in order to start the dialogue on these types of incidents in direct response to what happened on Kentucky Street.

The data gathering has been in the works for months longer than Gilyard’s incident, according to Garr-Barnes. 

Last week, students, faculty and staff were invited to take an online “campus climate survey” which allows participants to talk about how inclusive the university is anonymously.

Richard Miller,  Chief Diversity Officer, said a similar survery went out to faculty and staff around two years ago. Miller said the surveys are important to aid any policy change, if needed.

Gilyard isn’t anonymous. A couple of days after the incident, he recorded a poem he wrote about Kentucky Street. He said it’s helped him process what happened, and his hope for sharing his story will help others feel more comfortable talking.

“At least, if it happens to you, you’ll feel more comfortable sharing that story with other people because I think that’s going to be the only thing to impact change,” he said.

Have you ever been discriminated on campus or a victim of a hate crime? The Herald wants to hear from you. Email us at [email protected]