Indiana officials are investigating a July Fourth weekend incident in which a white man is accused of yelling about a Black man "get a noose" and pinning him against a tree. This comes after nooses were found hanging in Las Vegas, Portland, Oregon, and Baltimore, a noose was used to target a Black person at work in Nebraska and a Black man at home in Delaware. It follows five Black men found hanging from trees in California, New York, Texas and New Jersey – all ruled as suicides, despite activists' calls for deeper investigations.
A range of disturbing incidents have happened since George Floyd's death and subsequent protests against racism and police brutality. In Illinois, a man was charged with a hate crime for allegedly riding his motorcycle into a protest and hitting two people. Authorities say a KKK leader tried to run his car through a group of peaceful protesters in Virginia. Video shows a white man accelerating his car toward a Black woman in a Wisconsin parking lot.
Also in Wisconsin, a white lawyer who allegedly spit on a Black teen protester was charged with a hate crime and a white man who allegedly burned Althea Bernstein, a biracial woman, with lighter fluid is being investigated for a hate crime.
When it comes to families, a viral video shows a white woman pointing a gun at a Black family in a Michigan parking lot and a Black Muslim woman and her two children allegedly had a gun pulled on them by their neighbor in Washington state.
Across the U.S., Black people have reported incidents of alleged hate crimes – criminal offenses motivated by bias. As the Black Lives Matter social justice movement has rallied demonstrators and gained support across racial groups, concerns have arisen about violent backlash targeting people of color, similar to the ones that have played out during previous movements against racism.
The incidents have left many Black Americans fearing for their safety.
"They feel afraid that there are violent racists who are going to go after them," says Roy Austin, a prominent Black lawyer who was the former deputy assistant attorney general of the U.S. Department of Justice's Civil Rights Division.
History of backlash
History has shown that during previous movements toward racial equity, white Americans responded with violence.
More than 4,400 Black people were killed by terror lynchings from 1887 to 1950, starting with the end of Reconstruction after the Civil War and through protests against discriminatory Black codes and Jim Crow laws, according to the nonprofit Equal Justice Initiative based in Montgomery, Alabama. Once Black men were able to vote, Southern states used many tactics to prevent them from casting ballots, including mob violence and lynching, according to the Constitutional Rights Foundation. Economic progress has also been met with violence, such as in Tulsa, Oklahoma, when what was known as "Black Wall Street," was destroyed in a 1921 massacre by a white mob, leaving hundreds of Black people dead thousands homeless. During the Civil Rights Movement, Black people were terrorized with police brutality, including the use of fire hoses and dogs.
A year after the Black Lives Matter protests that began in 2014, sparked by the police shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, police killed more unarmed Black people, according to Mapping Police Violence. The number of people killed by law enforcement has remained steady – roughly 1,000 people per year – in each of the past four years, according to the Washington Post's "Fatal Force" project. In Black Lives Matter protests since 2014, police have responded with tanks and tear gas, firing rubber bullets and pushing protesters to the ground.
Hate crimes are underreported
Though FBI Hate Crime Statistics showed a slight dip from 2017 to 2018, incidents of person-directed physical assaults (rather than property damage or vandalism) were up both year over year and compared to the past decade, said civil rights attorney Brian Levin, a professor and director of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino.
Activists say there are likely many more hate crimes going unreported.
Lecia Brooks, chief workplace transformation officer for the Southern Poverty Law Center, says the FBI's hate crime report is not reliable because its data collection is voluntary. Many law enforcement agencies report zero hate crimes in their cities or don't report to the FBI.
Many hate crimes may not be documented. Law enforcement officials tend to rule hangings as a suicide, for example, even when evidence points to a lynching, says Brooks.
"It’s hard when you don’t have trust between community members and law enforcement, which speaks to the fear of African American communities when they believe it could have been a lynching," Brooks says. "It’s indicative of radicalized trauma and trauma when someone is hanged.”
Edward Dunbar, a clinical professor and psychologist at the University of California, Los Angeles, whose research focuses on hate crimes, says law enforcement in communities outside the South historically are more likely to report attacks against people of color as hate crimes.
"The best predictor of a state reporting hate crimes for the last 25 years is what side were you on for the Civil War," he says. "The Union has the highest reportage, the states that were on neither side have a reasonable number, and the Southern states have the lowest numbers."
Many victims do not report incidents of hate crimes because of distrust toward law enforcement, says Jeannine Bell, a professor at Indiana University Maurer School of Law, whose research focuses on systemic racism.
"Many African Americans do not trust law enforcement, so it’s understandable they would not report hate crimes," Bell said. "There is plenty of space for reforms to increase trust within the African American communities."
Even when they are reported, activists fear that in many recent cases, it will be difficult to prove a hate crime has occurred.
While most states have hate crime laws on the books, it can be difficult to prosecute these crimes because the government must prove the primary motivation for the offense is a bias against a protected class. In Iowa, for instance, two white men charged with assaulting a Black man have not been charged with hate crimes. Though they yelled racial slurs, it was not enough evidence to establish race as the primary motive, according to police.
Law enforcement officials must ask the right questions, says Stacey Hervey, a professor at the Metropolitan State University of Denver whose research focuses on extremism and hate crimes. Hate crimes are identified by the language used, the identity of the perpetrator, prior hate crimes and witnesses' testimonies. The growth of cellphone videos also can help law enforcement officials prove a hate crime.
Incidents of police brutality, even when bias-motivated, are often not ruled as hate crimes, notes Jessica Hodge, a professor at the University of St. Thomas.
Racist rhetoric can fuel violence
Election years can be particularly violent for minority groups when lawmakers target them as scapegoats, Levin says.
"When leaders make statements, it actually correlates with increases in hate crimes," says Levin. "When sociopolitical landscape gets divisive, often the group that is singled out for disdain is where we see an increase in hate crimes against that group."
There's been a recent uptick in anti-Asian crimes because of racist rhetoric surrounding the coronavirus pandemic, says Levin. President Donald Trump has referred to the virus as the "Chinese virus" and "Kung flu." According to the Pew Research Center, 3 in 10 Asian Americans say they've experienced slurs and jokes since the COVID-19 outbreak.
According to the Council on American-Islamic Relations' 2018 report, anti-Muslim hate crimes have increased by 74% since Trump's election. CAIR attributes the Muslim ban on the increase in hate crimes. Last month, gunshots were fired outside of an Indianapolis mosque, no one injured but a car outside the mosque was damaged. There was no arrest.
Anti-Latino hate crimes rose 21% in 2018, according to the FBI. In 2019, one of the deadliest anti-Latino attacks occurred in El Paso, Texas, when Patrick Crusius, a white gunman, killed 22 people in a Walmart. There's also been a myriad of harassment incidents, such as a gas station clerk telling Latino customers "they need to go back where they came from."
In recent weeks, Trump has been accused of inciting violence against Latino and Black Americans, warning about "tough hombre" criminals, calling the phrase Black Lives Matter "a symbol of hate" and promising to send "thousands and thousands of heavily armed soldiers" to quell protests.
Levin says this type of rhetoric is hate language that could result in more minorities being attacked.
“We’re very concerned because it’s such a turbulent time," says Levin.
Amid the reports of violence, some states have taken steps to strengthen hate crime laws.
Last week, Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp signed a hate crime bill into law for the first time in the state's history. The measure will allow judges to increase punishment for crimes targeted against race, gender, sexual orientation, sex, national origin, religion, or physical or mental disability. Lawmakers pushed for the bill after the shooting of Ahmaud Arbery, a Black man whom authorities say was chased and killed by Gregory and Travis McMichael, who are both white, while he was jogging in February.
“All Michiganders, no matter their community or the color of their skin, deserve equal treatment under the law,” Whitmer says in a news release.
This comes after a video went viral of Amy Cooper calling 911 after Christian Cooper, a Black bird-watcher in New York's Central Park, asked her to put her dog on a leash. On Monday, Cooper was charged with filing a false report when she claimed Cooper was threatening her.
Ibrahim Hooper, the spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, says people are coming together to combat alleged hate crimes.
“People are just not putting up with systemic racism anymore,” he says. “They’re fighting back against it, they are speaking out against it and joining together. It’s everyone recognizing that systemic racism has to go.”
Contributing: Associated Press
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Black Americans report hate crimes amid Black Lives Matter gains