The Southern Poverty Law Center, a respected anti-hate and civil rights nonprofit, has logged more than 700 instances of hate-based harassment and intimidation since the election. The incidents have ranged from anti-Semitic pro-Trump graffiti to out and out assaults.
Critics have blamed President-elect Trump’s divisive rhetoric for firing up racist, anti-Semitic and anti-LGBT groups. Trump had a chance to respond on CBS’ “60 Minutes” last week and said, “If it helps, I will say this, and I will say right to the cameras: Stop it.”
Attorney General Loretta Lynch told reporters on Friday that many incidents of hate crimes go unreported and urged people to report these incidents to local law enforcement.
Charging something as a hate crime requires proving the defendant’s motivation for committing the crime, so each case must be evaluated individually by prosecutors. So, it will be some time before we know just how many hate crimes may have been committed in the days following the 2016 elections.
What we do know, according to the FBI’s 2015 crime statistics, is that hate crimes overall were up by a worrisome 6 percent last year over previous levels. Far more troubling, there was a 67-percent increase in hate crimes against Muslims. African-Americans, Jews and members of the LGBT community also experienced increases in hate crimes targeted at them.
Attorney General Lynch also announced that the FBI and federal prosecutors will be investigating which of the post-election incidents qualify to be charged as hate crimes.
“Many Americans are concerned by a spate of recent news reports about alleged hate crimes and harassment,” she said. “The FBI is assessing, in conjunction with federal prosecutors, whether particular incidents constitute violations of federal law.”
We have no information about whether any violent incidents are being investigated as hate crimes at the state level. Ohio, like the majority of other states, has a hate crime statute that increases the penalty when crimes are proven to be motivated by bias against members of protected groups.