Posted by Nadia Aziz on August 27, 2015 in Blog

“The homeless man was lying on the ground, shaking…His face was soaked, apparently with urine, his nose broken, his chest and arms battered.” This was the scene outside of a Dorchester MBTA stop in Boston, MA on August 19th as police arrived.

The 58-year-old man was allegedly targeted because he was Hispanic. Two brothers with a history of committing hate crimes have been arrested. One of the brothers allegedly told the police, “Donald Trump was right, all these illegals need to be deported.”

Donald Trump, who has been leading the Republican Presidential field, has largely garnered attention for his campaign through the anti-immigrant rhetoric that we first saw in his announcement speech.

When Mr. Trump was asked about the incident and if he was concerned about his campaign speeches inciting violence, he said, “I think that would be a shame.” He then added that the people following him are “very passionate.”

This appalling incident presents an opportunity to discuss the responsibility that public officials and the media have not only to refrain from spouting, engaging in, accepting or tolerating bigoted speech, but to educate themselves, actively challenge, and stand against it. These officials drive public dialogue. When inflammatory and bigoted statements circle the airwaves largely unchallenged, there is a rise in hate crimes.

The correlation between public dialogue and hate crimes is well documented. As both the International Center for Advocates Against Discrimination and the Southern Poverty Law Center have noted, there is a tight link between hateful rhetoric and criminal violence.

In 2010 there was an increase in rhetoric from “Islam-bashing” politicians, and controversy over the Park51 community center. 2010 saw a 50 percent increase in Anti-Muslim hate crimes. There were verbal attacks on planned mosques, along with violent attacks and arsons.

There has been a rise in anti-Latino hate crimes over the last decade that is related to an increase in anti-Latino rhetoric brought in to the immigration debate. For example, there was an 11 percent rise in anti-Latino hate crimes in 2010 that was correlated with the “vilification of immigrants” surrounding the passage of Arizona’s anti-immigrant law, S.B. 1070.

The good news is that while inflammatory and bigoted speech appears to have a relationship with increased hate crimes, standing against hate speech has a relationship with a drop in hate crimes.

After the attacks of 9/11, hate crimes directed at Arabs and Muslims increased by more than 1,600 percent. But hate crimes dropped by almost two-thirds after President Bush “repeatedly emphasized” that Muslims and Arabs were not the enemy.

As the 2016 election season brings a new wave of public dialogue, our public officials must stand against bigotry and bear responsibility for the tone that is set on a national stage. Writing off those that commit acts of violence based on prejudice as “very passionate” is unacceptable. A debate of ideas is welcomed – bigotry is not.

Earlier this year the Arab American Institute (AAI) launched a pilot program in Pennsylvania, asking lawmakers across the state to sign a pledge to combat bigotry.  AAI has been tracking 2016 Presidential candidates’ statements in Election Central. We urge you to join us in insisting that our public officials stand against bigotry and for American values in the 2016 election and beyond. Please share the pledge to combat bigotry and call out instances of bigotry when you see them.

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