One Judge’s Order For Hate Crime Committers: Read More Books

A judge's "unusual sentence" included assigning books like “The Handmaid’s Tale."

Earlier this week, WUSA9, a local news site in Ashburn, Virginia, reported that a group of teenage boys was given an “unusual sentence” after spray-painting a historically black school with racist and anti-Semitic language and symbols.

Judge Alex Rueda ― who has librarians in her family ― saw the act as a “teachable moment,” and assigned the young men book and movie reports in lieu of community service or jail time. They will also have to do a research paper on swastikas and attend a Holocaust Museum with their parents.

The assigned films include “Twelve Years a Slave” and “Lincoln”; the books include The Handmaid’s Tale, The Bluest Eye, To Kill a Mockingbird and Native Son.

Newer classics including Adam Johnson’s The Orphan Master’s Son and Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad, the latter of which won last year’s National Book Award, were featured on the list, too.

After last year’s presidential election, there was a spike in hate crimes nationwide, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. There’s been a 42 percent increase in anti-Muslim groups since 2014, and a 14 percent increase in the total number of hate groups since the same year. Due to these increases, the American Library Association has started tracking hate crimes in libraries, including those situated in schools.

But precisely how these crimes will be adjudicated is another matter. Studies do show that people who read books are more empathetic, but whether that’s causation or merely correlation is tough to control for. Regardless, versing teens in works by writers of color and women writers can only better their understanding of the world.

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