Hate crimes are in the headlines:
Last month, a Muslim center in Victoria, Texas was gutted by fire within hours of Donald Trump announcement of a ban on citizens from seven Islamic countries entering the United States, and the next day, gunmen attacked a suburban Quebec City mosque as worshipers were finishing their prayers, killing six and wounding at least eight.
Hard times produce harsh behaviors, and for many Americans, times have been very hard for close to a decade.
The era defined by the mortgage bubble burst of 2008 and the economic splatter that followed has, not coincidentally, seen a spike in economic inequality and social anxiety, as people lost their homes and their jobs, and had to replace them with lesser dwellings and lesser jobs at lower rates of pay. Also not coincidentally, this period has seen a nationwide rise in alcoholism, opioid drug abuse, and suicides, all concentrated in the very geographic areas where the local economies have been hardest hit.
Self-abuse tends to produce abusive behavior, but, if FBI statistics are any measure, the bad years following 2008 saw no increase, in fact a steady decrease, in hate crimes. Until 2015.
In 2015, the number of hate crimes suddenly went up, by 6%, with the sharpest rise, 20%, in hate crimes against Muslims.
How come? The Southern Poverty Law Center which tracks hate crimes cited two factors, the Islamist terrorist attacks in Paris and “What was likely even more important … Donald Trump’s attacks on Muslims.”
Both the Law Center and the New York City Police Department say they have data showing 2016 was an even more virulent year for hate crimes, and that the upward curve continues in 2017.
Those FBI stats, by the way, are based on official police reports, from a decreasing number of reporting jurisdictions. Both those factors contribute to a startling difference between the FBI’s data and results of a national survey by the Federal Bureau of Justice Statistics. In 2012, BJS calculated the number of hate crimes committed in the United States to be 293,800, 50 times the FBI’s count.
Again, you ask, “How come?” 2 answers: the BJS survey found 60% of the hate crimes reported to them were never reported to police, and the bigger number reflected not police judgments but victim perceptions.
A very recent survey of American teenagers, done for the Human Rights Campaign, an advocacy group for the LGBT community, showed the period of the Trump primary and election campaigns, was awash in perceptions of increasing hatred and increasing victimization, and that things have continued to get worse since President Trump was elected.
A.C. Thompson has been a reporter for 12 years, mostly in the San Francisco Bay area. In 2006-2007, he was an investigative reporter for SF Weekly. For eight years before that he worked in a similar role for the San Francisco Bay Guardian. His work has also appeared in a number of national magazines. His work received the George Polk Award for local reporting in 2005. Thompson is co-author of the book Torture Taxi: On the Trail of the CIA’s Rendition Flights.