In the Spring of 2006, as I was walking out of class to head back to my dorm, my eyes were drawn to a newspaper left on an empty desk - an image of a bloody, shot up Quran surrounded by bullets.
A student-run newspaper published an anti-Islam edition. Paper in hand, I quickly walked back to my dorm where I felt safe calling my family. During the short walk I wondered what the image meant – was it supposed to intimidate me? Was it supposed to be a threat of some kind? The paper was filled with hate intended to provoke outrage and test the bounds of free speech.
In the following days, there was reaction from all sides. Concerns were raised to the University’s administration, statements were released, and a campus petition began in support of free speech. A couple weeks later, the same paper held a raffle on campus to give away a free AK-47.
In the years following the attacks on 9/11, I had experienced hateful interactions, images, and speech. When confronted with hate I felt sad, angry, and uncomfortable. I felt alienated from my classmates. I was living through a different experience that was not always understood or acknowledged.
In a sense – I was lucky. In the face of hate, many experience far worse.
Hate has real impacts. Hate crimes, in particular, are intended to strike fear into an entire community. As such, they are among the most pernicious of crimes. From trauma and other mental health impacts to physical dangers and death. Last weekend, we were tragically and once again reminded of the dangers of hate.
On May 20th, on the University of Maryland’s campus, a white student fatally stabbed an African-American Bowie State University student who was just three short days away from graduation. Since the tragic event unfolded, law enforcement released information that the defendant was a member of a white nationalist Facebook group. The FBI is investigating the tragic incident as a hate crime. Although the murder is still under investigation, it serves as a stark reminder of the human consequences of hate.
We have seen emboldened hate turn to violence far too often. From the shooting of unarmed black and Latino men, to the fatal stabbing of an elderly African-American man by a self-identified white supremacist in New York. The most recent Bureau of Justice Statistics National Crime Victimization Survey estimated that over 250,000 violent and property hate crime victimizations occur every year in the United States. That comes down to nearly 30 hate crime victimizations every hour. To put it simply - hate crimes are an epidemic in the United States.
It is difficult, if not impossible, to tell when hate could become violent. Protecting free speech while also ensuring our front-line impacted communities feel safe – at home, at work, in the community, and at school is imperative. While we may not have all of the answers, we cannot fail to act.
We can start by creating opportunities for constructive dialogues; by taking students’ experiences seriously; by acknowledging that hate is alienating, and understandably makes individuals feel unsafe; by acknowledging that different experiences are valid, and although everyone may not be able to completely understand, it shouldn’t prevent us from trying. Because when another student walks out of class and is confronted by hate - she should know that she is not alone. People from across different communities understand not only the universal impact of hate, but also the ways in which we can combat hate together.
The Stop Hate Project works to ensure victims of hate, witnesses, and advocates have the resources they need to tackle hate in their communities. We work to strengthen the capacity of leaders, law enforcement, and community members to combat hate. The first step in stopping hate is acknowledging it exists. Speak up. Report hate. Together, we can stop it.
To report an incident or for resources on how to you can combat hate in your community, call 1-844-9-NO-HATE.