Hate crimes have risen dramatically in the United States since the election of Donald Trump as president on Nov. 8. The United Nations has quickly taken note, criticizing its strongest financial and moral supporter, America.
“Recent reports of hate crimes in the United States are of great concern,” began a statement from the office of Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary-general, released Nov. 15, 2016. “The Secretary-General roundly condemns all forms of discrimination — racial, based on gender or gender orientation, ethnic and religious. All reports of hate crimes should be thoroughly investigated and, when confirmed, vigorously prosecuted.”
For more than a year, Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, the UN high commissioner for human rights, has openly criticized Trump; recently Hussein said his office would continue to call out incitements in the post-election era in the US and elsewhere. Almost a year ago, in December 2015, Hussein cautioned against “[v]arious political figures [who] have likened Syrian refugees to ‘rabid dogs,’ called Mexican migrants ‘rapists,’ referred to ‘swarms’ of migrants, and suggested banning all Muslims from entering their countries, and placing all those already there into camps.”
In the US, the hate crimes keep coming since the Nov. 8 election. The Southern Poverty Law Center’s Intelligence Project tracked more than 700 instances in the first eight days after the election, according to Heidi Beirich, director of the center. The rate of hate crimes rose from an average of 16 crimes a day in 2015 to almost 90 a day since the election.
“Since Donald Trump won the election, we’ve seen an alarming number of hate-based incidents occur throughout the nation, some of which are no doubt stemming from Trump’s hate-filled campaign,” Beirich said on Nov. 16, responding to media inquiries. “We’ve collected more than 700 such incidents since the election — truly a frightening number.”
More recent figures from the center cite 900 confirmed hate-crime incidents since the election, said Richard Cohen, president of the center, on MSNBC on Nov. 21. The center is tracking hate attacks through its #ReportHate campaign as well as HateWatch and a running Hate Map of hate groups throughout the US.
The latest annual hate crime report issued by the FBI shows that these crimes increased 6 percent from 2014 (5,479) to 2015 (5,850), with an average of 16 hate crimes occurring daily nationwide. The largest increase occurred in actions directed toward Muslims, with the rate of such crimes rising 67 percent, from 154 in 2014 to 257 in 2016.
Across New York, a “blue state” that voted 2:1 for Hillary Clinton as president, hate crimes have blazed. Immediately after the election, vandals, for example, painted “Make America White Again” and swastikas on a children’s baseball dugout in Wellsville, a small town near the Pennsylvania border. In Buffalo, a black doll was found on a noose at a Jesuit college. At the State University of New York, Geneseo (a small town outside Rochester), swastikas and “Trump” were painted on dorms.
In New York City, recent crimes have run the gamut from vandalizing a Muslim student prayer room on the New York University campus; racist, homophobic and misogynistic texts on GroupMe among a Columbia University sports team; swastikas and vandalism in public playgrounds; and a woman assaulted in a popular Brooklyn eatery over differing views on the election.
The sudden burst of hate crimes since the election has left advocacy and immigrant groups across the US scrambling to develop strategies to handle the problem.
“I didn’t plan to wake up to a post election to-do list that included battling hate crimes,” said Camille Mackler, director of legal initiatives for the New York Immigrant Coalition, an advocacy group working with more than 200 nongovernment organizations across the state.
Mackler has taken the lead in developing the coalition’s response, partnering with other groups like state lawmakers to coordinate efforts in communities and deploy a rapid response. One action is an open-source Google spreadsheet, #IllRideWithYOU, in which thousands of people living in New York City have entered their names, offering to accompany anyone fearing an attack while riding the subway alone. A similar one that got going in Sydney, Australia, after a siege in 2014, inspired the campaign.
Mackler also cited the need for a response to the rising number of hate crimes happening in schools. Southern Poverty Law Center data shows that of the first 430 hate incidents reported since the US presidential election, 160, or 47 percent, occurred in kindergarten-12th-grade schools throughout the US.
“There is a small silver lining to be found,” Mackler said. “We have seen a demonstrative uptake in calls to volunteer and in donations since the election.” The Southern Poverty Law Center, Human Rights Watch and the American Civil Liberties Union have all also reported spikes in donations to their organizations.
Media outlets, too, are scrambling to report on hate-crime incidents. Citizen-driven actions, like a map tracking hate crimes in the first days after the election, were unable to continue under the daily deluge. Digital media outlets like Buzzfeed and Mashable began tracking hate crimes but ended up with snapshots of crimes across the country instead. Shaun King, a senior justice writer for the New York Daily News, is keeping track of crimes and reactions on his Twitter account.
Responding to expressions of hate across his state, New York’s Governor Andrew Cuomo designated a special hate-crimes unit to investigate and prosecute these acts. In one of his few interviews since winning the election, Trump, appearing on CBS’s ’60 Minutes,’ called on violent actors to “stop it,” but maintained it was the duty of the sitting president, Barack Obama, and Trump’s presidential election opponent, Hillary Clinton, to quell the unrest.
UN Secretary-General Ban, who leaves office Dec. 31, voiced more concerns about the phenomenon of hate expression in a Nov. 12 interview with the Independent in Britain, saying: “[Trump] has made a lot of worrying statements, but I am sure that he will understand the whole importance and seriousness and urgency. The presidency may be important, but humanity and all our lives and our planet Earth are eternal.”
Through his election campaign, Trump vociferously opposed some of the most significant contributions the UN has achieved in the last several years, including, notably, the Paris Agreement on climate change and the Security Council-approved Iran nuclear deal. Trump’s platform also contradicted international norms in his stance on torture, particularly waterboarding.
Speaking in The Hague in September, Hussein, the UN high commissioner for human rights, discussed the need for the world to pull back from a trajectory that encouraged politicians like Trump, Marine Le Pen of the National Front Party in France and Geert Wilders of the Party for Freedom in the Netherlands to gain national followings, warning that “the atmosphere will become thick with hate” that could “descend rapidly into colossal violence.”
In an October press briefing in Geneva, Hussein specifically warned that Trump posed a threat to the global order and rule of law.
“If Donald Trump is elected on the basis of what he has said already — and unless that changes — I think it is without any doubt that he would be dangerous from an international point of view.”
Laura E. Kirkpatrick is an editor, writer and researcher who has covered international, national and civic social enterprise and development, women’s issues and the media for Gannett Publications, ESPN and other media outlets. Based in Buffalo, N.Y., Kirkpatrick wrote PassBlue’s most popular article in 2015, “In New York State, a City Willing to Settle Refugees the Right Way”; in 2017, her story on sexual harassment at the UN was also among the top 5 for the year. Kirkpatrick also manages social media and audience development for PassBlue. She received a New Media Editorial Fellowship from the Columbia University Graduate School of Business and has a graduate degree in journalism from Columbia University and a B.A. in English from Hamilton College.