Students take aim at others on the Internet

Amy Poppinga

Amy Poppinga

It is probably hard for many SDSU students to believe that hate exists on their campus. One SDSU group recently came face-to-face with the proof that it does.

A couple of weeks ago, the Gay- Straight Alliance (GSA) found a Facebook group that directly attacked one of its members. Most students in the Facebook group – which reached a peak membership of 110 – were students at SDSU.

“I was disgusted that people could be so ignorant,” said Ashley Wells, treasurer of GSA. “? I thought Brookings was above this sort of action and attack.”

The Facebook group used gay slander – even though the members were not sure of the victim’s sexual orientation – and members tried to find out the victim’s class schedule and place of residence. One member even said she once tried to hit the victim with her car, said Wells.

“We took these things into great consideration, and we realized (the victim’s) health could be at risk and (the victim’s) life could be at risk because some of these people were becoming increasingly aggressive,” she said.

Wells and other students in GSA messaged members of the group, while reporting the page to Facebook officials. Though some members left the group once they were contacted by GSA, others were not remorseful, Wells said.

The group was taken down by Facebook about a day after it was reported. Then, GSA members took their complaint to the University Police Department (UPD).

Police Chief Tim Heaton said though it came close, the Facebook group – which is considered a public forum – broke no laws. He said he did talk to the creator of the group and the girl who said she tried to hit the victim with her car, but unless actual hate crimes occur, that is the most he can do.

South Dakota law defines a hate crime as causing physical injury to another person, defacing, damaging or destroying their property and threatening to cause harm to the person or their property. A violation of this law is a Class 6 felony, which carries a maximum punishment of two years imprisonment in the state penitentiary or a fine of $4000, or both. The South Dakota law does not directly reference sexual orientation.

Wells, a sophomore entrepreneurial major, said though several members of the Facebook group viewed their comments as a joke, hate crimes are quite serious.

“Hate crimes are never a joke. The kind of actions promoted in that group are illegal in South Dakota, and our GSA chapter is working hard to make that well known,” she said. “If students continue to promote this sort of hate, making a big joke of it and belittling people ? it will not be tolerated on this campus.”

Heaton agreed. “If they cross a line, they will have to deal with me,” he said.

“SDSU students need to realize they can go to jail like anyone else.”

Wells said it is also important for students to understand that making hateful comments against a person is wrong even if they do not agree with homosexuality.

“We’re all humans; we all have differences,” said Wells. “? The homosexual person and the heterosexual person are both people.”

Overall, Heaton said the best way to prevent these types of acts from happening again is to educate the student body.

“People who don’t deal with a wide variety of people have a narrow outlook on life,” said Heaton. “If you broaden their understanding, the hate will dissipate.”

Wells agreed. “It has to be through actions: through teaching people and informing them on what is right and wrong and how they are hurting each other.”

The Law:

Statute 22-19B-1 of South Dakota Codified Laws

Malicious intimidation or harassment – Felony. No person may maliciously and with the specific intent to intimidate or harass any person or specific group of persons because of that person’s or group of persons’ race, ethnicity, religion, ancestry or national origin:

Cause physical injury to another person; or

Deface any real or personal property of another person; or

Damage or destroy any real or personal property of another person; or

Threaten, by word or act, to do the acts prohibited if there is reasonable cause to believe that any of the acts prohibited in subdivision (1), (2) or (3) of this section will occur. A violation of this section is a Class 6 felony.