Hate crimes have been on a frightening rise in the United States ever since President Donald Trump’s election. People, particularly those who belong to minority communities, fear if they or one of their family members will become the next target of violence simply because of the color of their skin, their gender or sexual orientation, the religion they follow, their national origin, and even their disability.
Trump’s inflammatory rhetoric seems to have emboldened bigots and white supremacists all across the country. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, some 900 incidents of hate or bias were recorded in the first ten days after the November election. The number jumped to 1,094 in the first month.
Sadly, most incidents of racial or religious harassment go unreported. Sometimes, even when such incidents are reported to the concerned authorities, the attackers are not charged with hate crimes.
For instance, a 17-year-old Muslim girl in Virginia, Nabra Hassanen, was walking with her friends back to her mosque after breakfast before sunrise when a 22-year-old man, identified as Darwin Martinez Torres, allegedly shouted slurs at them. Feeling threatened, the girls ran towards the safety of the All Dulles Area Muslim Society, but realized they had left Hassanen behind.
The police later found the girl’s remains in a pond. She was reportedly sexually assaulted and police believed she was beaten with a bat. Torres was arrested and charged with murder. However, he was not charged with a hate crime and the authorities classified the incident as a road rage.
Perhaps to understand the phenomenon better, one should start with the basic question: what makes a crime a hate crime?
“A crime is designated as a hate crime if law enforcement can prove that the primary motivation for the commission of the crime was based on hate or bias against an individual because of one of their protected identity characteristics,” Lecia Brooks, the outreach director at Southern Poverty Law Center told Carbonated.TV. “Identity characteristics: like race or nationality, immigration status, sexual orientation.”
Matthew W. Doherty, a former Secret Service agent and the senior vice president of Chicago-based strategic security and corporate investigations consulting firm, Hillard Heintze, also clarified the difference between hate speech and free speech and when it should be reported to the authorities.
“Hate crimes are not tolerated in the United States, nor is hateful language,” he explained. “Now, there is a constitutionally protected right of free speech, but if you feel bodily harm, then that should be reported to authorities or management if you’re in a particular workplace environment.”
It’s easy to lose hope in the face of what’s happening in the country. But, if you see a stranger shouting religious or racial slurs at someone, there are ways to intervene and help the victim.
1. Distract the perpetrator
The first step would be to distract the perpetrator, but that doesn’t mean you should interact with them. Instead, focus on the person being targeted. Call them or wave at them to let the bigot know the victim has friends or allies in the area.
2. Talk to the target
Engage the victim in a conversation. Start talking about weather, the traffic, the new billboard across the street, anything really to take their attention off the attacker. Make the perpetrator feel they are being ignored. That is often enough for them to back down.
Stay with the target until the attacker is gone. If you are someplace secluded, perhaps walk the person to their home or a crowded area where they can’t be ambushed.
3. Find someone in authority
The final and perhaps the most important step would be to contact the authorities – and that doesn’t necessarily mean police.
“If you’re in a store, that could be a store manager or a supervisor. If you’re in school, that could be an administrator, campus police on college campus, something like that,” said Brooks.
In the aftermath of the tragedy in Portland, where a white supremacist fatally stabbed two heroic men and injured the third after they tried to intervene and stop him from harassing two young women who appeared to be Muslim, there is a new fear in the air. While those men died as heroes taking a stand against hate in Trump’s America, the incident also served as a reminder that these bigots could also cause physical harm.
In this case, the attacker was armed with a knife and had violent intent.
“I think it depends on the physicality of the bystander,” Doherty continued. “If they are confident in themselves and have appropriate physicality to perhaps interject then I would say yes, and if not, it might escalate the situation.”
Helping someone in distress might be a gut instinct for many, but one should also keep their own safety in mind.
“The first thing you want do is look to your own personal safety, right?” Brooks added. “You want to look around, determine whether or not you’re safe, if there are any other people around you and make sure that you are safe first.”
Find out more about the difference between hate crimes and free speech and how one should intervene and help the victim in the videos above.
Banner/thumbnail credit: Reuters