For every act of racist hate speech, there should be an equal response that builds community and connections.
A week after hate-filled graffiti was splashed across the Western Washington University campus, Bellingham police arrested a 20-year-old male student Sunday in connection with the crime. While the racist and homophobic hate speech rattled students at Western, it’s become all too common on campuses across the nation.
Western students awoke on Nov. 18 to racial slurs posted outside nine dormitory doors and scrawled elsewhere on campus, including on one of its notable outdoor sculptures.
The FBI reports the number of incidents like this are growing shockingly fast, with hate crimes on the rise in Washington and across the nation.
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Hate crimes increased in Washington by 32 percent from 2016 to 2017. Law-enforcement agencies reported 613 hate-motivated crimes in the state last year, more than any other state except California, according to the FBI. Per capita, Washington had the third highest rate of hate crimes reported in 2017, behind Washington, D.C., and Kentucky. In Seattle, the number of reported hate crimes almost doubled, to 234 incidents in 2017 from 118 incidents in 2016.
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Among the hate crimes reported last year in Seattle, 120 of the cases were directed at someone’s race and/or ethnicity. Forty-five involved crimes that were motivated by someone’s religion, 57 for sexual orientation, one for gender and 11 involved crimes motivated by discrimination against someone’s gender identity.
In a recent report, the Center for the Study of Hate & Extremism at California State University in San Bernardino connects the 2016 election to some of the increase in hate crimes across the United States. In particular, researchers pinpoint a new hate motivator: Russian interference in the election. Russian operatives manipulated social media in 2016 by working to divide the nation along racial lines.
President Donald Trump may not be directly responsible for this increase, but the growing problem is a side-effect of his campaign. His actions and words since the election have made things worse, including a statement calling some white supremacists “very fine people” after the deadly Charlottesville, Virginia, protest-march-turned-riot in August 2017.
Research from the Center for the Study of Hate Crime & Extremism found the fourth quarter of 2016, the period including the election, was the worst fourth quarter for hate crime since 2008. Hate crimes spiked the day after the election and throughout November, according to FBI data. With 735 reported hate crimes, November 2016 was actually the worst November for hate crime since 1992, when organized national record keeping began.
The Southern Poverty Law Center offers some smart and practical advice for fighting hate in its “Ten Ways to Fight Hate” community resource guide.
Building coalitions to fight hate is a good antidote to apathy and fear of subsequent attacks. The center, which monitors hate groups and other extremists, recommends not engaging with hate groups directly in public or at forums but responding in your own way with unity rallies and events. Pressuring political leaders to denounce hate and bias, in coalition with other like-minded individuals, can help with the coalition building.
One of the 10 strategies is supporting victims, who may feel alone or afraid. Small acts of kindness help. That’s exactly what happened at Western, where someone left anonymous notes of encouragement outside of dorm rooms the day after the graffiti was posted.
While acts of kindness are always appreciated, it is not enough. Campus leaders in Bellingham and across the state and nation need to be vigilant, vocal and supportive of ongoing action and dialogue. For every act of hate speech, there should be an equal response that builds community connections and disrupts hate and intolerance..