Significance Because of the color of his skin a good man was killed near this bus bench. He was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time, the victim of a hate crime that was motivated by nothing other than prejudice. Will society ever learn to be accepting of those of different color or nationality? Its been a long term mission for us to say “no” to hate.

Inscription – November 18, 1997

While waiting for a bus on 17th Street, Oumar Dia was shot and killed because of the color of his skin. Jeannie Van Velkinburgh who came to his assistance was shot and paralyzed.

In response to the murder, thousands of Denver citizens attended a rally to demonstrate that hate is not tolerated in this city.

This plaque honors the memory of Oumar Dia and pays tribute to Jeannie Van Velkinburgh, the Good Samaritan who typifies the caring character of Denver.

Location – 39°44’44.2″N 104°59’25.7″W

Details – Oumar Dia came to Denver in search of the American dream, seeking a better life for himself and his family, who still lived back in his Senegal. Dia, who worked as a bellhop at the Hyatt Regency Hotel, faithfully sent money to wife and three children back in Africa. He worshipped regularly.

On a brisk winter night, along come Nathan Thill, 21, and Jeremiah Barnum, 25, a couple of skinheads looking for trouble. They worked together at a gas station on Broadway and were bound by the shared belief that whites are superior.

Dia was in the wrong place at the wrong time. He was sitting at the bus stop on 17th street, near Welton waiting for his ride home. The skinheads targeted Dia. Thill confessed to 7NEWS in 1997, “I’d seen the black guy at the bus stop and I kind of just thought to myself how he really didn’t belong where he was at and I thought how easy it would for me to just take him out right there.”

Thill called Dia cliché racist names, knocked off his cap into the street, and then fired three bullets into his chest and neck.

Witnesses recall, Oumar Dia did nothing to provoke Nathan Thill. He did not challenge Nathan Thill. He didn’t even try to stand up and fight.

A woman at the bus stop — Jeannie Van Velkinburgh — tried to stop the confrontation. “I had a witness that had to be taken care of,” Thill confessed. His gunshot severed Van Velkinburgh’s spine, she was paralyzed.

The thugs searched the victims for valuables before leaving the scene of the crime.

Barnum and Thill were subsequently charged with two counts of first-degree murder (premeditated and felony), attempted first-degree murder, first-degree assault and ethnic intimidation.

Denver Mayor Wellington Webb, who happens to be a black man, calmed the city. Standing in front of the media, Webb proclaimed, ”Denver is a city where the African-American population is 12%; and where, in 1991, both candidates for mayor were African-American.”

The citizens settled down and love triumphed hate. People sent money to Oumar Dia’s former boss at the Hyatt. The Oumar Dia Memorial Fund was founded, raising more than $250,000. Locally, the fund allowed Dia to realize his goal of taking care of his family in Senegal. Nationally, the actions against Dia also eased the way for hate crime legislation.

Hate Crimes – A hate crime can be thought of as any wrongdoing perpetrated against a particular group of people. It is a form of prejudice directed at a group of individuals based on their ethnicity, age, sexual orientation, gender identity, religious preference, or any other defining characteristic. Whether the crime in question is assault, theft, verbal abuse or even murder, the motivation behind it is based on the hatred for a group that is perceived as being different in some way.

The origin of hate crimes dates back to ancient civilizations. One of the earliest examples is from the Roman Empire, which had a reputation for persecuting various religious groups. According to several historical documents, Christianity was tolerated by Emperor Nero until July of 64 A.D., when a great fire ravaged Rome for six day. It destroyed 70% of the city and left half its population homeless. Angry Romans pointed that the Emperor was to blame for the damage. Emperor Nero, in turn, shifted the guilt to the Christians, making them the scapegoat for the fire. The Catholic Emperor ruthlessly persecuted the Christians, resulting in years of hate crimes against anyone with Christian beliefs.

Still today, hate crimes from bullying, intimidation, vandalism and assault to bombing public spaces occur all over the world. Which event are you thinking of?

The hate crime against Mr. Dia and others eventually led to the Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2009 (18 U.S.C. § 249), making it a federal crime to cause or attempt to cause injury to any person because of the victims race, color, religion, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability or national origin.

What became Oumar Dias assailants? Thill avoided the death penalty by pleading guilty to first-degree murder. He is serving a sentence of life without parole. The other people involved in the incident have not been so lucky co-conspirator Barnum took a plea deal and was convicted for accessory-to-murder. Van Velkinburgh died from an overdose of painkillers in 2002 – two months after Barnum accepted a plea bargain. Barnum went in and out of jail a couple of times and ultimately died of gunshots sustained during an armed confrontation with an Englewood police officer in a Walgreens parking lot in 2012.

Quiz Questions

  1. What are some of the reasons for hate?
  2. For how long have hate crimes been happening?
  3. Why was Colorado shocked by their local hate crime?
  4. Can you think of a hate crime?
  5. What kind of national laws have been passed to discourage hate crimes?