Not just war around the corner. America’s problem is also escalating hate crimes

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NEW YORK – Almost two decades after the 9/11 terrorist attacks devastated, roiled America, and hate crimes against ethnic minorities, especially Muslims and Sikhs, spiraled, there’s a sense of déjà vu again, as the possibility of a long-drawn, intense war with yet another Middle Eastern country looms large.

A more alarming aspect is that hate crimes in the United States has already registered worrying numbers during peace time, as white supremacist groups have flourished this past decade. Mass shooting deaths are now seen as victims of domestic terrorism. It remains to be seen how much more atrocities would escalate, should America declare war with Iran.

Anti-semitic violence and vandalism has sharply shot up in recent weeks across the country, including the stabbing attack on Hanukkah celebrants at a rabbi’s home in suburban Monsey, New York. Thousands of people marched in an interfaith protest over the Brooklyn Bridge in New York City on Sunday in a show of solidarity with the area’s Jewish community.

“I am so grateful to the people of all faiths who have come here today, Christian and Jewish, Hindu and Muslim, and every other faith, to say that we … New Yorkers and we Americans will not stand for hate and bigotry,” Senator Chuck Schumer of New York told the crowd.

The attack in New York came after two Hasidic Jews were killed in a shooting at a kosher supermarket in Jersey City, New Jersey, in November. The two assailants in that assault were killed by police, reported Reuters.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo had condemned the attack in Monsey as another instance of “American cancer”.

“These are people who intend to create mass harm, mass violence, generate fear based on race, color, creed. That is the definition of terrorism. It’s all across the country. It is an American cancer that is spreading in the body politic. And American cancer turns one cell in the body against the other,” said Cuomo, standing outside the rabbi’s home where the attack took place.

Earlier this week, at a press conference, New York City Police Commissioner Dermot F. Shea noted the increase in hate crimes, saying murder, shootings and robberies all saw upticks, though all three are coming off all-time lows.

“Hate crimes are also up, specifically driven by anti-Semitism, things such as swastikas and hate speech,” said Shea.

New York City has been striving hard to combat hate crimes. They now have a fully-staffed Hate Crimes Task Force under Inspector Mark Molinari. There’s also a new Racially and Ethnically Motivated Extremism unit under John Miller. They have also significantly bolstered their uniform presence in select areas.

They also plan to incorporate hate crime stats into their CompStat reporting for the first time ever, “because the best way to fight hate is by shining a light on it,” said Shea.

Shea noted that the vast majority of the crimes within the anti-Semitic motivation is swastikas – at playgrounds, buses, a school yard, a school bathroom.

Overall, anti-Semitic hate crimes were up 26% in New York City in 2019 but overall crime was at a record low, reported CNN. In 2019, there were 234 anti-Semitic incidents reported versus 186 incidents in 2018. Hate crimes overall were up 20% in 2019, from 256 to 428. The additional 47 anti-Semitic incidents in 2019 made up the bulk of that increase.

The Washington, DC-based ProPublica, an independent, nonprofit newsroom that produces investigative journalism, who did a massive study on hate crimes, ‘Documenting Hate’, in the wake of the 2016 Presidential election, said in a statement this week that they found a number of patterns in the tens of thousands of tips they received and the police records they gathered.

“Go back to your country” or “go back to X country” was one of the most common phrases we encountered in both hate crimes and bias incidents. We saw a large number of hate incidents in schools, particularly after the 2016 election. Latinos have been targeted based on the (often erroneous) belief that they are immigrants or for speaking Spanish. People of color reported being victimized by people who referred to the president or his border and immigration policies. We found people of color harassed by their neighbors and targeted in hate incidents at superstores. We heard from Muslims and people of Arab descent targeted in road rage incidents,” it said.

Hate crimes is emanating in different avatars, too.

On the heels of the report of a woman in Iowa intentionally running down a 14-year-old girl thinking she was a Mexican, days before Christmas, authorities this week charged a woman in Portland, Oregon with hate crimes for pulling off a 24-year-old exchange student from Saudi Arabia’s hijab, trying to strangle her with it and “intentionally desecrating” it.

The victim, who attends Portland State University, told the police that since the attack, she “no longer feels safe wearing a hijab in public and is relying on alternative methods to cover herself,” prosecutors said, reported The New York Times.

Zakir Khan, the board chairman of the Oregon chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, called the incident a “tremendous tragedy.”

“It’s a terrible reminder of how Muslim women are being targeted, not only here in Oregon, but also all throughout the country,” he said. Khan said hate crimes affect not just the person being attacked, but the person’s community as well, reported the Times.

“There’s a lot of talk about protecting,” he said, adding that hate crimes have created an environment where “there’s a lot of people dealing with trauma, and we as a country need to come to grips with how we’re going to be dealing with that trauma for years to come.”

In 2016, the FBI reported a rise in hate crimes, fueled in part by attacks on Muslims.

For Muslim Americans, Khan said, “there’s a lot of Islamophobia that’s coming in, there’s a lot of hatred that’s being bred in places all around the country. It really impacts the safety of Muslim Americans,” adding, “We need to be a country that really strives to protect that safety, but also helps people feel at home here.”

Voice of America reported that hate crimes in America’s five largest cities rose sharply in 2019, with New York, Los Angeles and Chicago all setting highs not seen since the terror attacks of 9/11, according to a new report from California State University.

The Jewish community was the most frequent target of hate crimes amid a resurgence in anti-Semitism, according to the report by the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism.

Apart from New York City, Los Angeles will show 309 hate crimes, up from 290 in 2018 and also the highest since the 9/11 attacks. Anti-Jewish incidents more than doubled, to 58, while attacks targeting blacks jumped more than 18%, to 58.

Chicago will show an estimated 96 hate crime incidents, up from 77 in 2018, and a post-9/11 high for the nation’s third-largest city. Anti-Jewish hate crimes rose more than 46% over the previous year to a total of 19 incidents. Also, Phoenix will show a 25% increase in hate crimes over the previous year, the report said.

Collectively, hate crimes in the five biggest cities rose from 867 in 2018 to 988 in 2019, about a 14% increase, according to the report. For the nation’s 10 largest cities, however, the overall increase was slightly more moderate, at about 10%, noted Voice of America.

The overall surge in hate crime comes at a time of demographic change and hyperpolarized politics in America, and follows a slight decline in bias incidents in 2018.

“These data reflect several trends, including an escalating tribalism, where various prejudices like anti-Semitism, xenophobia and homophobia, among others, are widely shared across a diverse grouping of people,” Brian Levin, the report’s lead author, said. “Next, local demographic changes in densely populated cities means more people are coming into contact with each other right at a time when fearful stereotypes are increasingly become the kindling for violent behavior.”

This past year has also been the worst for hate crime homicides since 1992, partly due to a white supremacist massacre of Hispanic shoppers at a Walmart store in El Paso, Texas. In what was described as the deadliest attack on Latinos in modern American history, 21-year-old Patrick Crusius killed 22 people and injured 24 others in August. That made Latinos the top target for extremist killings in 2019, according to the report.

In 2018, when 22 people were killed in hate crime incidents, Jews and African Americans were the top target. Of the 45 extremist-motivated homicides in 2019, 26 were committed by white supremacists, according to the report, noted Voice of America.

The one community that’s strived hard to shed a more positive light on their estimated 500,000 members in the US, has been the Sikh community, which has gone into overdrive trying to educate America of their faith, how they’re not ‘Muslim’, since 9/11.

Another example of that was at the annual Rose Parade in California this year, as the Sikh American Float Foundation, for the sixth consecutive year, created a dazzling float to highlight their faith and to promote ideas of “freedom, equality, compassion and service,” reported the Los Angeles Times.

Maninder Minu Singh, creative director of the foundation, was quoted as saying: “If we plant seeds of love, compassion and service into young minds today, then they can design a world in the future that is more peaceful, kind, loving and beautiful.”

Is America listening?

(Sujeet Rajan is Executive Editor, Parikh Worldwide Media. Email him: sujeet@newsindiatimes.com Follow him on Twitter @SujeetRajan1)

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