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It was a hate crime Outrage lacking over racial beating, police should prioritize investigation

The shocking and brutal beating of Brian Milligan, a white teenager who may have been attacked for the "crime" of dating an African-American, is only made worse by the muted reaction by the police and public.

To be fair, this is an ongoing investigation. Detectives say they are making progress and that some time in the near future they plan on talking to the victim. The department is hopeful media attention might spur information.

But Milligan, Buffalo Police might want to note, was up and alert and fully capable of giving an interview to News reporter T.J. Pignataro even while police officials were claiming they need to give Milligan time to "recover and begin to heal" before talking to him.

Milligan outlined in detail for The News the events leading up to the Aug. 18 beating that nearly ended his life in a Genesee Street parking lot. By all appearances, this can be described as a hate crime -- a designation that could draw in the FBI.

Of course city detectives must investigate and get all the facts they can before confirming what looks like an obvious conclusion. There's always the chance a situation may not be as it appears, at least entirely. But Milligan's family makes a strong case that the beating was indeed a racially motivated hate crime, which should make this investigation a priority.

Milligan had just walked girlfriend Nicola Fletcher home when the attack occurred at about 10:30 p.m. at Genesee Street and Floss Avenue. The couple had long endured taunts and harassment because Milligan is white and Fletcher is African-American.

Violence in reaction to that situation should be an anachronism in this day and age. Anti-miscegenation laws have been deemed unconstitutional since 1967 and the U.S. Supreme Court's unanimous Loving v. Virginia ruling.

Unfortunately, the bias remains. Milligan and Fletcher talk about the "minor" attacks of paint balls and slurs the couple have endured, in addition to the name-calling and shouts of "them girls belong with us." It's abhorrent and sad.

There's a strong possibility, as others have suggested, that were the situation reversed and Milligan were an African-American dating a Caucasian, the incident would have been quickly dubbed a hate crime. That gap, too, is unacceptable.

The Rev. Darius G. Pridgen, pastor of True Bethel Baptist Church, deserves credit for noting, rightly, that there would have been a high level of community outrage had the victim been African-American, and for raising his voice from the pulpit and imploring anyone with information to come forward. The police also have asked any with information to call the confidential tip line: 847-2255. Even delayed, response would be welcome.

Stories of racial attacks may not be as frequent as they once were half a century ago, but the reaction by the public ought to be one of clear outrage. And that, unfortunately, hasn't been the case so far. Maybe we haven't advanced as a society as much as we would like to think.

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