Hate and stupidity are first cousins. Scratch that.
They are blood brothers; and they have been running amok since November 2016. In fact, according to the Southern Poverty Law center, there have been almost 1,000 reported hate crimes targeting Muslims, Arabs, African-Americans, Latinos and other people of color since the election of Donald Trump.
The SPLC reports that the number of hate groups in the United States rose for a second year in 2016 coinciding with the reinvigoration of the radical right by Donald Trump’s racially divisive rhetoric that helped him pull together enough electoral college votes to shock a nation.
The report goes on to say that “the most dramatic growth was the near-tripling of anti-Muslim hate groups – from 34 in 2015 to 101 last year. More disturbing is that this growth has been accompanied by a rash of crimes, including an arson that destroyed a mosque in Victoria, Texas, just hours after the Trump administration announced an executive order suspending travel from some predominantly Muslim countries. The latest FBI statistics show that hate crimes against Muslims grew by 67 percent in 2015, the year in which Trump launched his campaign.
In fact, in the first ten days after Trump’s election, the SPLC documented more than 860 hate crimes—at least 180 of them against Black Americans.
According to its website, these are among the incidents the SPLC documented:
• In Los Angeles, a sign was propped next to a bus shelter reading, “NO NIGGERS.”
• In Arizona, a woman putting groceries in her trunk reported that two men in a pickup truck yelled “Trump forever, you half-nigger slut bitch!” as they drove past her.
• “Noose Tying 101” was written on a whiteboard at San Francisco State University.
• A black doll was found hanging from a noose in an elevator at New York’s Canisius College. A man in Kansas City, Missouri, reported that a noose and swastika were spray-painted onto his car.
• A woman in New York City received a text message from a high school classmate that read “Fuck u nigger bitch. Die. Painfully from a tree….Or being dragged behind a pickup truck flying the confederate flag filled with dem good ol boys. Nigger scum. Cotton picker.”
• In Las Vegas, a White man punched two Black men and attempted to assault a Black woman. After the attack, he chanted “Donald Trump!” and “White Power!”
• In Clarksburg, Virginia, a white woman married to a black man found a note attached to the family’s front door that read, “You’re worse than your nigger family because you should know better. Race trader (sic). Trump 2016.”
• In Brundidge, Alabama, an interracial couple found a gun target tacked to the front door of their restaurant with a pair of nooses hung on either side.
• A White couple, with eleven adopted Black children, was the object of a letter that read, “You and yours need to stay separate — NOT EQUAL.”
• A building in Durham, NC, was vandalized, with the phrase “Black Lives Don’t Matter (sic) and Neither Does Your Votes” written on it.
• In Washington, D.C., a flier referencing Black Lives Matter read: “We are organizing a new movement to rid our neighborhood of niggers. No more Black Lives Matter! Kill them all.”
There have been more—much more than nooses and notes and hate-filled words sent by texts or scribbled in graffiti. Here are other examples of specific reported incidents of violent or deadly hate crimes across the nation since the Nov. 8 election:
• An Indian immigrant, 32-year-old Srinivas Kuchibhotla, was shot and killed by Adam Purinton, a White man, in Kansas who reportedly told him, “Get out of my country.” Kuchibhotla and his friend, Alok Madasani, also an immigrant from India, were in a bar in Olathe, Kan., on Feb. 20, when Purinton shot them. Later, Purinton reportedly bragged about shooting “two Iranians.”
• On March 2, store owner Harnish Patel was killed in Lancaster, S.C., although authorities have not confirmed ethnicity as a motive.
• On March 3, Deep Rai, a Sikh man, was shot and injured in front of his house in a Seattle suburb, reportedly after the attacker shouted “go back to your country.”
• The Department of Justice recently announced an indictment against 54-year-old Jeffrey Allen Burgess, a White man from Pittsburgh, in connection with the Nov. 22 incident at a restaurant in a shopping mall. Burgess allegedly pummeled an Ankur Mehta, an Indian man seated next to him at a bar and said, “things are different now … I don’t want you sitting next to me, you people.”
Let’s be clear. When one’s hateful thoughts drive them to actions that hurt and harm others and deprive them of life and liberty, it is a crime.
Of course, none of this should come as a surprise for two reasons. First, Trump’s fiery, hate-laced campaign rhetoric—his idiotic statements regarding the so-called criminal propensity of Mexican immigrants, his talk of wall building, Muslim banning, and even pussy-grabbing, his Obama birther bull, and his ridiculous promise to make “great again” a country that has actually never lived up to that potential—has fueled this growth in hate crimes. It emboldened White, radical extremists who seem to be under the impression that America is their country and theirs alone. To be sure, his promise of returning American to some fake ideal of greatness was nothing more than a signal, not-so well coded language to the radical right that they could come out of the shadows and emerge from under whatever rock they have been hiding. Which brings us to the second and most important reason none of what has happened in America as it relates to the up-tick in hate crimes surprises us. America has a long, well-documented and undisputed love affair with hate from its very inception. The history of hate in America dates as far back as its history of inequality. It is as old as bigotry. It is as ancient as intolerance. It dates back to the “founding” of the American colonies.
Unfortunately, it has always taken a parade of innocent martyrs for America to face and challenge its deep-seeded history of hate.
No community knows better than the African-American community the price that comes with martyrdom as a prerequisite to finally fighting hate. We have had plenty of martyrs. A wide-eyed 15-year-old boy from Chicago visiting relatives in Mississippi. Three hopeful civil rights workers—two White, one Black–during Freedom Summer believing they could make a difference by registering people to vote. Four little Black girls in an Alabama church waiting for Sunday School. Nine Black congregants in a South Carolina church waiting for Bible study. And the unnumbered and sometimes unnamed Black bodies dangling and mangled as the lynch mob looked upon them pride and accomplishment at the height of unfettered racism and bigotry.
To be honest, our biggest fear and concern has been that those are the acts took place during the very time that Donald Trump, his followers and supporters envision in their minds when they think of a “great” America.
But finally, in his first speech to a joint session of Congress, the President at least attempted to appear presidential and said these words in that Feb. 28 speech:
“Tonight, as we mark the conclusion of our celebration of Black History Month, we are reminded of our Nation’s path toward civil rights and the work that still remains. Recent threats targeting Jewish Community Centers and vandalism of Jewish cemeteries, as well as last week’s shooting in Kansas City, remind us that while we may be a Nation divided on policies, we are a country that stands united in condemning hate and evil in all its form.”
Condemning hate crimes is not enough. Perpetrators of these vicious attacks needed to be punished—prosecuted. They need to get the clear message—in no uncertain terms—that their brands of cowardice, bigotry, terrorism, violence and intimidation have no place at all in this nation. The indictment of Jeffrey Allen Burgess offers some hope. But that was immediately squashed by the mass firing of nearly four dozen Obama-era U.S. attorneys across the nation to make way for Trump and Jeff Sessions to hand pick others to lead U.S. attorneys’ offices in federal districts across the nation. We simply have a hard time believing that anyone appointed by Trump and answering to Sessions will take seriously and handle in an appropriate manner hate crimes and violations of civil rights. We could be wrong, but we find it very difficult to muster up any confidence in Trump’s Department of Justice. It also doesn’t help that Trump’s very policies are a form of the evil we’re all supposed to be condemning. With one voice, he talks about a nation united. With another, he talks about building walls and banning Muslims. Nope, we don’t trust that is he sincere or serious.
That’s why we have to be.
The reality is that a country—some geographical location confined by borders—cannot be great. But its people can. They must. Words and rhetoric will not stop this spurt of hate crimes. They never have. The action of a people that will not sit by idly and blindly as it happens is the only thing that will.
According to reports Ankur Mehta was working on his tablet with his earbuds in his ears. That’s why he didn’t notice or hear Jeffrey Allen Burgess taunting him and using racial and ethnic epithets before Burgess attacked him. But didn’t anyone else hear it? The bartender? Another patron? Anybody? Somebody? Everybody? Please! Why was Burgess allowed to sit at the bar of the Red Robin and taunt Mehta? Why wasn’t his rant stopped before it turned into an attack? Why wasn’t he kicked out of the restaurant? And if he wouldn’t leave, why wasn’t the police called? To report that Burgess taunted Mehta, someone had to hear it. If it wasn’t Mehta, then who did? And did they stand up and let Burgess know that in a great America, we don’t behave that way? Our guess is no.
So it will keep happening as long as others are happy to sit at the bar of the Red Robin sipping their Sam Adams and acting as if they see and hear nothing while some racist joker berates another man because he looks different or immigrated to America from South Asia or Mexico or Tanzania.
It will keep happening because hate is nothing new in this America. We’re certain it will never go away. What has to change right now is all of us. We can’t be acquiescent because acquiescence makes us complicit. To repeat a worn, but true phrase—SILENCE is indeed VIOLENCE.
We are the first line of defense against acts of hate in this nation. Before the police department. Before the Justice Department. Before the courtroom. We must open our eyes and raise our voices. Raising our voices is how we fight acts of hate—no matter the perpetrator, no matter the victim. Whether it is an interracial family, a transgendered women, a Black man, a Black women, a Sikh child, a Jewish couple, a Muslim family, a Mexican-American, or an innocent Indian immigrant that some ignorant racist mistakes for an innocent Iranian immigrant, they are deserving of our voices.
So instead of martyrs and bystanders, we need fighters, resisters, challengers. People that will stand up against hate, bigotry and unfairness in all forms when they see it—even if it is not directly affecting them. No, especially when it does not directly affect them. Fighting for self-preservation really is no great feat—it’s a natural instinct, actually.
Now, standing up for someone else—that’s real greatness. Donald Trump and his minions should take note of that.