Posted by Guest on May 04, 2017 in Blog

294A1984.JPGBy Sam Leathley

Jonathan Smith, from Muslim Advocates, spoke on the issue of hate crimes. He began by emphasizing that hate crimes have risen dramatically since the election (Smith’s organization, Muslim Advocates, has been one of the organizations tracking this rise). Smith highlighted three main points regarding hate crimes: underreporting, the necessity of holding institutions accountable, and the narratives surrounding hate crimes.

Hate crimes are grossly underreported—a phenomenon which can largely be attributed to affected communities’ distrust of law enforcement. Underreporting has worrying consequences: if we do not have an accurate measure of hate crimes, it is difficult to effectively respond to the bigotry that is occurring with community initiatives or policies. Furthermore, Smith argued that since other, non-criminal hateful incidents—such as hate-based bullying in K-12 schools—are not systematically recorded, the precise level of bigotry and hate a community is experiencing may be even murkier. Smith noted that law enforcement still further complicates underreporting by claiming that if they receive no reports of hate, then zero hate crimes have occurred—regardless of whether the lack of reports received resulted from community distrust of law enforcement.

294A2012.JPGWhat can we do, in the face of such claims by law enforcement? Smith asserts that we should hold our institutions accountable. It is the federal and state government’s job to take our concerns seriously, so even if many (understandably) feel alienated by the Trump administration, Smith urged the audience to remember that such politicians are still incentivized by support, feedback, and advocacy from their constituents. As demonstrated in our Advocacy Road Map, AAI shares this conviction, and has laid out clear advocacy tools that are effective at all levels of government. 

Smith ended with a poignant final comment: that the narratives we perpetuate about hate crimes have tangible effects on people’s lives. Hate crimes, he emphasized, are not random. If instances of hate violence, such as the Olathe, Kansas shootingearlier this year, continue to be dismissed as isolated events (or tragedies only explainable by mental illness), the social inequality that fuels hate crimes will go unchecked.

Sam Leathley is a Spring 2017 Intern at the Arab American Institute.