A letter left at a home in Snoqualmie instructing the occupants to get out of the country. Racist graffiti on the exterior of the Martin Luther King Family Outreach Center in Spokane. The vandalized sign at the Muslim Association of Puget Sound. More swastikas than seem reasonable this far removed by time and distance from Nazi Germany.
These are but a sampling of reports of hate incidents in Washington state collected by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) since the election on Nov. 8. The full list documents 53 incidents broken down by date, location and target, the breadth of which spans so many marginalized groups that it seems few have been spared.
In 13 cases, perpetrators referenced President-elect Donald Trump.
Reports of these incidents of hate and others like them swamped the SPLC in November. In its fourth online update, the center had collected more than 1,000 reports nationally between Nov. 9 and Dec. 16 through its website and media reports. Daily reports peaked at 220 on Nov. 9 and dropped precipitously several days later. They continued to trickle in through December.
Of the 1,094 incidents recorded, 315 were anti-immigrant in nature, 221 anti-Black, 112 anti-Muslim and 109 anti-LGBT, according to the center. Only 26 were directed against the president-elect or his supporters, of which six were anti-White. In contrast, 37 percent of the incidents referenced Trump or one of his statements directly as part of the slur or attack.
Seattle, a deep-blue urban center that delights in reminding itself of its progressive politics, is not immune.
At a meeting convened by City Councilmember Lorena Gonzalez in December, leaders of Seattle’s nonprofit community gathered to discuss the impact of local hate crimes on minority groups and how the city could support their work.
Marcos Martinez, director of Casa Latina, a nonprofit that supports Latinx individuals and day laborers, described racially charged harassment that his clients face on the street, while Diane Narasaki of the Asian Counseling and Referral Service spoke of Filipino people being told to “go back to Mexico.”
“People don’t feel comfortable speaking Spanish in public,” Martinez said. “It’s really unacceptable that it’s gotten to this point.”
Some impacts are more insidious than overt racism or xenophobia targeted at any one individual. Advocates described students afraid to go to class because their teachers expressed conservative views on immigration or issues surrounding the undocumented. Social media has been used to discover who is “supposed” to be here.
And, even as the reports pour in, institutions that could be places of safety find themselves incapable of staving off the worst offenses.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), which keeps its own statistics on reports of anti-Muslim attacks, called out the University of Washington when it failed to comment after a Muslim woman in a hijab was attacked on campus by an unidentified man. The crime, which left UW student Nasro Hassan with a concussion and painful bruising, doesn’t fall into one of the 13 categories that must be broadcast to the wider campus community by federal law. The investigation proceeded silently, with no warning to others who might find themselves similarly targeted, until CAIR took the story to local media.
January presents another heated controversy for the university in the form of Milo Yiannopoulos, an editor with Breitbart, the White supremacist site thrust onto the main stage during the election for its far-right rhetoric and propensity to distribute fake news.
Not many raise the ire of the left quite like Yiannopoulos. The former Twitter troll was tossed off of the site after he goaded an army of followers into targeting actress Leslie Jones with cruel and racist attacks. He denies the existence of rape culture, compares Black Lives Matter to the KKK and states that “America has a Muslim problem.” Several colleges on his campus speaking circuit, charmingly entitled “The Dangerous Faggot Tour,” canceled his appearances citing safety concerns.
After thousands signed a petition asking the university to put a stop to the event, UW President Ana Mari Cauce took to the UW blog to explain that, while she would never invite Yiannopoulos to the campus, she can’t stop him from coming, either.
“We have reviewed this event with the State Attorney General’s office and there are not, at this time, sufficient grounds to ban him from speaking on our campus, although we continue to monitor what is going on as he speaks elsewhere,” Cauce wrote.
The Student Life Office is working on creating a concurrent event for those who “find no value in speakers like this,” but the only people who can call off the engagement are the College Republicans. Given that the College Republicans successfully raised more than $7,000 through GoFundMe to pay for security and other costs for the event, a cancellation seems unlikely.
What provocateurs like Yiannapoulos know is that messaging matters. Getting a stage as big as UW, or his recent book contract with Simon & Schuster, adds an aura of legitimacy to views that a year and a half ago were confined to Breitbart’s dark corner of the web.
Countering that tone of divisiveness and desire to lash out at people perceived as “other” will be critical to fighting the increase in hate, said Arsalan Bukhari, executive director at CAIR.
“Looking at it self-critically and introspectively, we need to do a lot, lot more,” Bukhari said.
Bukhari wants his organization to try new strategies to spread their message that Muslim Americans lead normal lives within the wider society to which they contribute positively. Promoting these stories, and steering media outlets away from loaded, inaccurate language when reporting them, is one way to improve the current climate, he said.
“It’s not just one candidate or one person,” Bukhari said. “That’s the larger issue that needs to be addressed to turn back the tide of hate crimes that have been committed.”
Reward for information on UW anti-Islamic hate crime
Nonprofits prep for Trump administration