Monitors in the United States generally categorize incidents of racist and xenophobic violence by victim’s race, ethnicity, or national origin, although there is often considerable overlap of these categories. Attacks motivated by racism and xenophobia are also often fueled by religious antipathy, gender bias, or other forms of prejudice.
The highest levels of violent hate crime continue to be directed toward members of the African-American community and others of African origin. In the latest report, covering 2006, the FBI found that over a third of the total victims of hate crime violence were targeted because of antiblack bias. A high incidence of racist attacks on black Americans is also reported by municipal and county hate crimes monitors.
In other racist and xenophobic attacks, hate crimes targeting people of Hispanic or Latino origin rose nationwide by one third since 2003.
Racist violence also targeted people of Asian origin. These included attacks on persons of South Asian origin, who were sometimes targeted in the belief they were Muslims and from the Middle East.
A review of the record of antiblack hate crimes in 2007 and the first half of 2008 reveals a pattern of both serious crimes—including murder, sexual assaults, and beatings—and of everyday violence affecting daily lives of ordinary people, often at the hands of neighbors, coworkers, or fellow students; in their homes, schools, churches, and elsewhere in their own communities.
In many cases, hate crimes against black Americans echoed past policies, practices, and societal norms of racial segregation. Black families faced harassment and violence expressly intended to drive them out of particular neighborhoods; black workers were made unwelcome in predominantly white workplaces, black students faced harassment and violence at schools, and black churches were targeted for racist graffiti and arson.
The FBI’s hate crime report for 2006 recorded 3,332 victims of antiblack bias crimes, in 2,640 incidents. This represented 66.4 percent of the victims of racial bias crimes, and 34.5 percent of the 9,652 victims of hate crimes overall. Of 2,042 total offenses, 65 percent were crimes against persons (in contrast to 56.5 percent of such crimes among hate crime offenses overall). Higher rates were reported only in anti-Hispanic crimes (72.8 percent) and sexual orientation bias crimes (71 percent). The FBI breakdown identified one antiblack bias homicide and three cases of forcible rape. There were 395 cases of aggravated assault, 564 of simple assault, and 1,079 of intimidation. Crimes against property totaled 1,088, including 9 cases of arson and 980 cases of “destruction/damage/ vandalism.”
Frequently reported hate crimes against black Americans took the form of physical assaults on individuals, including beatings, shootings, and stabbings. A number of these incidents led to arrests and prosecutions.
- In Baton Rouge, Louisiana, in August 2007, three men were charged with a hate crime and attempted murder for shouting racial epithets and allegedly firing a shotgun at two black Department of Public Works employees.
- On June 11, 2008, in Marshfield, Massachusetts, an estimated dozen assailants shouted racial epithets at an African-American man, chased him, and then “kicked, stabbed and hit until he was nearly unconscious,” according to police. Four suspects were detained and faced hate crime and attempted murder charges.
- On January 20, 2008, in Omaha, Nebraska, Brittany Williams, a 21-year-old African American college student, was shot to death at a local drive-in. Prosecutors noted that the murderer’s “own words—and the circumstances of the shooting—point to the [murder] as being race-based.”
- In June 2008, in Eugene, Oregon, three young white men attacked a 59-year-old African-American man, beating him with a baseball bat. According to police reports, the victim suffered “facial, jaw and skull injuries” requiring extensive surgeries. The incident was investigated as a hate crime.
- In Seattle, Washington, in March 2008, two white men yelling racial slurs attacked a 24-year-old black man at a bus stop. Police announced two arrests on charges of second-degree assault, first-degree robbery, and malicious harassment (the latter is based on Washington’s hate crime law).
Rope nooses and cross burnings are potent symbols of racist terror and intimidation and a reminder of the lynchings of African Americans that took place in the United States prior to the 1960’s civil rights movement. Regretably, these symbols are still employed to send messages of racial hatred, and figure in crimes of violence against persons and property motivated by racial bias. On September 1, 2006, two nooses were hung from a tree in a schoolyard in Jena, Louisiana, that set in motion protests and further noose-hanging incidents that continued throughout 2007. A demonstration involving participants from across the United States was held in Jena on September 20, 2007, protesting the failure to address the noose incident as a hate crime and the disproportionate response by law enforcement authorities to offences attributed to black youths following the initial incident. The Southern Poverty Law Center documented as many as 50 incidents involving nooses in a “racist backlash” to the demonstration over the following months.
The intimidating use of the hangman’s noose, along with threatening graffiti and anonymous notes threatening violence, were increasingly reported at schools and colleges in the wake the Jena events. Incidents were recorded on campuses in Mobile, Alabama, Los Angeles, California, New London, Connecticut, Henniker, Vermont, Mount Pleasant, Michigan, and other cities.
In April 2007, the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Hate Crime website said twenty cross burnings, which are defined as a hate crime in most U.S. states, had been reported nationwide since October 2005. Special Agent Carlton L. Peeples, the acting chief of the Civil Rights Unit at the FBI Headquarters, declared that although the incidents were not common, “when they do take place, they have a huge impact—not just on the victim but on the entire community.”
Black and interracial families frequently suffered vandalism, arson, threatening graffiti, verbal threats, and harassment in many parts of the United States. In some cases, racist harassment of neighbors escalated to personal assaults. Many cases of assaults and harassment also occurred in the workplace environment. The victims included county and municipal workers, medical professionals, clergy, and a wide range of other white and blue collar workers. Some of the most vicious attacks targeted individuals for their close relationship with black Americans, including interracial couples and their children. The hangman’s noose or the buring cross were sometimes used to deliever the message of racial hatred in the incidence of violence and property damage targeting black families.
- In Brentwood, California, in August 2007, attackers spray-painted and set alight the home of a black family. A vehicle stolen from the family at the same time was found partially “stripped and burned.”
- In Aurora, Colorado, in December 2007, police charged a 51-year-old man with harassment of another person because “of that person’s actual or perceived race, color, religion, ancestry or national origin.” The man was allegedly responsible for hanging nooses and inserting razor blades in a black employee’s work belt at Arapahoe County Weatherization Department.
- On July 19, 2008, a cross was set up and burned in the yard of an interracial couple with four children in Dudley, North Carolina. Police subsequently arrested a neighbor of the victimized family, Dixon Steward, who was charged with ethnic intimidation and a misdemeanor.
- In Nashville, Tennessee, in January 2008, an unknown person set fire to a pile of newspapers on a man’s doorstep and placed a noose and cross atop the blaze.
- In Arlington, Texas on December 19, 2007, a woman attacked a black neighbor, Silk Littlejohn, striking her on the head with a piece of wood while hurling racial epithets. Racist graffiti—expressing dissatisfaction with Littlejohn’s presence in the neighborhood—was sprayed on the victim’s house after the incident. Police charged the 66-year-old woman with a hate crime assault.
- In Virginia Beach, in August 2007, vandals painted racist epithets on a car that was then set on fire at the home of “a white woman who has biracial children.”
Media reports and national and local data showed a dramatic rise in violence against people of Hispanic origin (Latinos). The violence has indiscriminately targeted both U.S. citizens and foreigners, and both legal and illegal immigrants, and has has taken place amidst recent mainstreaming of anti-immigrant rhetoric and fears.
In the hate crime report for 2006, the Federal Bureau of Investigation said there were 819 victims of crimes targeting people of Hispanic origin, making up 62.8 percent of the 1,305 victims of hate crimes motivated by ethnicity or national origin in 2006. The 819 victims represented 8.5 percent of the total 9,652 victims of hate crimes. In contrast, there were 595 reported Hispanic victims in 2003, 6.5 percent of the total.
The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) revealed a 35 percent rise in hate crimes against people of Hispanic origin between 2003 and 2006—based on an analysis of Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) crime reports. An FBI spokesman interviewed by National Public Radio confirmed the 35 percent rise. The incidents reported ranged from vandalism to violent assaults, arson, and murder. The SPLC report added that “experts believe that such crimes are typically carried out by people who think they are attacking immigrants.”
There were 576 anti-Hispanic incidents reported in 2006, of a total of 7,772, resulting in 770 offenses. Of these, 561, or 72.85 percent, were crimes against persons. There were also 5 cases of arson registered among the crimes against property. As noted, the proportion of crimes against persons in cases of anti-Hispanic bias was the highest of any category of racial or ethnic/national origin category—72.8 percent.
The recent rise in violent hate crime against Hispanics is further documented in 2007 statistics from the state of California and Los Angeles County, the most populous county in the United States. According to the state’s annual hate crime report, anti-Hispanic offenses increased by seven percent, from 218 in 2006 to 234 in 2007. The Commission on Human Relations for Los Angeles County, California, which also produces an annual report on hate crimes, reported a 28 percent rise in such crimes targeting Hispanics from 2006 to 2007, resulting in a five-year high for such violence.
Racist attacks on immigrants of Hispanic origin may also have been seriously underreported by victims lacking confidence in local police and fearing sanctions based on their immigration status. Immigrant victims may be more likely to report serious crimes, but reluctant to take the risk of coming forward to report minor assaults and harassment and intimidation. This may explain the high proportion of violent hate crimes in the total number of bias attacks on people of Hispanic origin—71 percent nationwide in FBI statistics for 2006, 85 percent in Los Angeles County statistics for 2007 (where “anti-Latino crimes were the most likely to be violent”). In 2007, the U.S. Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services has started to issue special visas to illegal immigrants who are victims of violent crimes in the United States, offering protection against deportation to those who cooperate with law enforcement agencies.
In some of the most serious crimes reported, people of Hispanic origin—immigrants and U.S. citizens or residents—were victims of murder in racist attacks.
- On October 7, 2007, in Las Vegas, Nevada, a man reportedly ran over with a car and killed Mexican national Manuel Ramírez Rodríguez. Police detained the suspect on charges of murder and said the killing was a hate crime, motivated by the victim’s nationality.
- On July 12, 2008, in Shenandoah, Pennsylvania, Mexican immigrant Luis Ramírez was brutally murdered by a group of teenagers, who approached Ramírez and his American girlfriend in a park. The youths attacked Ramírez with punches and kicks, knocking him to the ground and continuing to kick him after he went into convulsions. Two high school students were charged with homicide and ethnic intimidation and a third was charged with aggravated assault, ethnic intimidation, and other crimes. Charges were pending against a fourth, a juvenile, as of the end of July. The Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF) requested the launching of a civil rights investigation by the Department of Justice and for federal monitors to be dispatched to the area, after local authorities expressed doubts that the incident involved racism.
- In July 2007 David Ritcheson committed suicide. The Mexican-American teenager was the victim of a brutal racially motivated attack in a town outside of Houston, Texas, in April 2006. The attackers broke his jaw, burned him with cigarettes, attempted to carve a swastika in his chest, and poured bleach on him. The most severe injuries were caused when they violently sodomized Ritcheson with a patio umbrella pole. Ritcheson was hospitalized and required thirty surgeries for his injuries, but never fully recovered from the physical and psychological trauma of the attack. He subsequently collaborated with the Anti-Defamation League in creating an antihate program at his high school, and one year after the attack testified before the U.S. House of Representative’s Judiciary Committee in hearings concerning the strengthening of federal hate crime laws. Three months later Ritcheson committed suicide. The accused were sentenced to life imprisonment and ninety years, respectively, for aggravated sexual assault; an appeal by one of the defendants was dismissed in March 2008.
In many reported cases, vandals attacked the homes and property of Latino families. In some attacks, perpetrators targeted the people and institutions that provide assistance to Hispanic immigrants. In a number of cases, attacks were carried out against immigrant-owned businesses. In others, day laborers were kidnapped, on the promise of a job, and taken to remote sites and beaten. Incidents of serious violence against Hispanic Americans and immigrants have been reported in areas with large Hispanic populations, notably in the Southwest, and elsewhere in the United States. In San Diego, California, Deputy District Attorney Oscar Garcia, who specializes in hate crime prosecutions, confirmed that Hispanic Americans are being expressly targeted. Places at which migrant workers gather to meet employers were particular targets of racist abuse: “day labor sites seem to attract hate mongers who use that as an excuse and hide behind the flag and claim they’re merely trying to express political views.”
- On August 10, 2007, in Seaside, California, a man posing as an employer, picked up Artemio Santiago García, an immigrant from Oaxaca, Mexico, and drove him to an abandoned building. According to prosecutors, Blevins clubbed Santiago over the head with a flashlight and punched and kicked him repeatedly. Santiago was knocked unconscious and suffered severe injuries.
- On September 30, 2007, in Avon Park, Florida, attackers set fire to the home of a citizen of Hispanic origin and painted an obscene anti-Puerto Rican epithet on the wall of the garage.
- On May 4, 2007, in Gaithersburg, Maryland, attackers set fire to CASA de Maryland, center for immigrant assistance. The center had previously received repeated threats.
- On October 8, 2007, in Omaha, Nebraska, unknown attackers damaged the property of a Hispanic family, painting “white power” and a swastika on two vehicles and setting them on fire.
- On August 16, 2008, in Staten Island, New York, a man vandalized and damaged several shops and restaurants catering to a Mexican clientele, smashing into the windows with a vehicle. Community leaders expressed concern that “the rampage was motivated by ethnic hatred,” while there were no reported arrests.
The dramatic rise in anti-Hispanic violence nationwide has fused longstanding racism with new strains of xenophobia. The violence has emerged in the context of anti-immigrant and anti-Mexican rhetoric in the news media, increasingly echoed by politicians and community leaders. Immigrants have been denigrated, dehumanized, and demonized.
A trend of rising anti-immigrant discourse within the political mainstream has helped fuel the increasingly virulent rhetoric of organized hate groups and may have contributed to the growing incidence of violence. Monitors report that the number of groups propagandizing racial supremacy and intolerance has risen sharply in recent years, with many recasting their public message to build upon more mainstream anti-immigrant sentiment.
The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) reported a 48 percent rise in the growth of hate groups operating in the United States since 2000, which is attributed mainly “to the anti-immigrant fervor sweeping the country.” Some organized white supremacist and anti-immigrant factions have been shown to have both advocated and engaged in racist violence. According to the SPLC, these groups are mainly responsible for the dramatic rise in violence toward people of immigrant origin.
A review of anti-immigrant rhetoric by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) has identified a series of themes through which immigrants are vilified and demonized, including claims that immigrants are a deadly source of disease in the United States; that immigrants are disproportionately responsible for crime; and that immigrants intend to take over Texas and California. Citing the statements of media personalities, politicians, public officeholders, and leaders of anti-immigrant organizations, the ADL report concludes that “anti-immigrant propaganda and rhetoric, once the domain of hate groups, is now part of the lexicon used by anti-immigration advocacy organizations, politicians and media figures considered mainstream.”
Hate crimes targeting people of Asian (and Pacific Island) origin continued to be widely reported, while statistics on hate crimes targeting members of specific subgroups are very limited. People of South Asian origin (e.g. Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi) continued to be victimized by attacks impelled by racism. Additionally, people of South Asian origin—many of whom are not Muslims—were subjected to threatening vandalism and personal assaults motivated by anti-Muslim bias. Others attacked included Asian Americans of Chinese and other East Asian origins.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation’s report for 2006 identified 239 victims of “Anti-Asian/Pacific Islander” bias, in 181 incidents. The data was not further disaggregated to identify victims from particular areas in Asia. The victimization of other Asians is also reflected, however, in the FBI’s category of “anti-Islamic” bias crimes, although the absence of a further breakdown of the data makes this impossible to quantify. Although the U.S. Census Bureau also uses the combined category “Asian and Pacific Islander Populations” in reporting on the racial composition of the population of the United States, it has since 1997 included “Asian” as a separate census category.
- In San Dimas, California, in April, 2008, two men attacked and stabbed 22-year-old Yoo Sun in the back and the face, requiring an airlift for emergency medical treatment. A police spokesman said the attackers were shouting white power slogans. A 27-year-old and a 15-year old had been charged with attempted murder which was being investigated as a hate crime.
- In July, 2008, in Albuquerque, New Mexico, attackers vandalized the automobile of a Sikh family with obscenities. The family also reported prior incidents of harassment.
- In January 2008 in Queens, New York, an attacker shouting xenophobic epithets assaulted a worshipper at a Sikh temple. David Wood, 36, was subsequently charged with “second-degree assault as a hate crime, second- and third-degree assault and second-degree aggravated harassment.”