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March 31, 2017

Prioritizing U.S. Leadership on Hate Crime Through Improved Data Collection and Reporting

In the wake of a divisive campaign season and the election of President Trump, bias-motivated rhetoric and violence is gaining a prominent place in the public sphere. The campaign season featured toxic rhetoric demonizing immigrants, refugees, Latinos, and Muslims, among other groups, as well as initial policy proposals from the administration that many believe are rooted in racial, ethnic, religious, and other forms of bigotry.

Emboldened by Trump’s victory, hate groups in the United States have been increasingly visible and vocal.[i] America has also witnessed an alarming wave of hate-inspired incidents since Trump’s election. From November 9 to February 7, 2017, the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) collected reports of 1,372 bias-related incidents.[ii] Several of these troubling events directly referenced President Donald Trump, his campaign slogans, or other remarks he made during the election season.

While official hate crime data for 2016 will not be released until the fall of 2017, and not all incidents captured by the SPLC will meet the definition of a “hate crime,”[iii] the trend is nevertheless troubling and has led many Americans to express concern over rising intolerance and hate-motivated violence. A recent report from the Center for the Study of Hate & Extremism lends additional weight to a post-election spike in hate crime. In nine of the ten urban areas with available data, hate crime increased, by an average of 21.7 percent.[iv]

In the first weeks of his administration President Trump failed to clearly condemn antisemitism and assuage the fears of affected communities in several press encounters. In his statement on Holocaust Remembrance Day the President failed to mention Jews or the role of antisemitism in the Holocaust.[v] When asked by an Israeli reporter about his connection to rising antisemitism at a joint press conference with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on February 15, Trump responded by bragging about his election victory, and offered that he would “stop long simmering racism” and that there was going to be “a lot of love.”[vi] When asked a similar question the following day, Trump lashed out at the reporter, called the question unfair, and told the reporter to sit down.[vii]

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[i] Mark Potok, Southern Poverty Law Center, “The Year in Hate and Extremism,” in The Intelligence Report (February 15, 2017), https://www.splcenter.org/fighting-hate/intelligence-report/2017/year-hate-and-extremism. See also, Eric Bradner, “Alt-right leader: ‘Hail Trump, Hail our people! Hail victory!’” CNN, November 22, 2016, http://www.cnn.com/2016/11/21/politics/alt-right-gathering-donald-trump/.

[ii] Southern Poverty Law Center, Hatewatch: Post-Election Bias Incidents Up to 1,372; New Collaboration with ProPublica (February 10, 2017), https://www.splcenter.org/hatewatch/2017/02/10/post-election-bias-incidents-1372-new-collaboration-propublica.

[iii] Hate crimes are traditional offenses with an additional element of bias. The FBI defines a hate crime as a “criminal offense against a person or property motivated in whole or in part by an offender’s bias against a race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, ethnicity, gender, or gender identity.” Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Hate Crimes, https://www.fbi.gov/investigate/civil-rights/hate-crimes.

[iv] Brian Levin, Analytic Charting by Kevin Grisham, Special Status Report: Hate Crimes Increases 22% in Major Metro Areas in 2016, Center for Hate & Extremism – California State University, San Bernardino (March 2017).

[v] The White House, Statement by the President on International Holocaust Remembrance Day, January 27, 2017, https://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2017/01/27/statement-president-international-holocaust-remembrance-day

[vi] Chris Cillizza, “Trump was asked a question about anti-Semitism. His answer was about the electoral college,” Washington Post, February 15, 2017, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-fix/wp/2017/02/15/donald-trump-offered-up-a-massive-word-salad-when-asked-about-anti-semitism-today/?utm_term=.0157fefdeaf6.

[vii] William Cummings, “Trump slams reporter for ‘repulsive’ question about anti-Semitism,” USA Today, February 16, 2017, http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/onpolitics/2017/02/16/trump-anti-semitism-question--president/98012216/.