The Alarming Rise of Hate Crimes
On Oct. 27, a man entered the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh and opened fire, killing 11 people who had gathered there to worship. It was the deadliest anti-Semitic attack in U.S. history. The day before, a man in Florida was arrested for mailing pipe bombs to several prominent political figures. Two days before that, a white man shot and killed two black shoppers at a supermarket in Kentucky. The country was left reeling in the aftermath of three separate crimes, all motivated by hate, over the course of 72 hours.
When I attended Shabbat services in Glendale the next week, we grieved over the loss of life and the attacks carried out against innocent people simply because of their faith. And I thought back on an anti-Semitic attack in our community just 20 years earlier when a white supremacist shot five people at the North Valley Jewish Community Center in Granada Hills.
The United States is a nation of extraordinary diversity, filled with opportunity for people of every religion, creed and color. But this very idea of America is being challenged by those who attempt to sow division and preach hatred, who see only our differences rather than our common humanity. And though we would like to believe otherwise, the rise in hate crimes is not just anecdotal, but an alarming trend that we cannot ignore.
The FBI’s annual report on hate crimes was recently released, showing a rise in hate crimes for the third consecutive year. The Southern Poverty Law Center noted an increase in the number of hate groups, with neo-Nazi groups seeing the most growth and anti-Muslim groups increasing for the third year in a row. The Anti-Defamation League reported that anti-Semitic incidents increased by 57% in 2017, the largest single-year increase since the group began collecting data in 1979.
Of course, that data can only include incidents that were reported. Participation in the FBI report is voluntary; discrepancies in state laws about how hate crimes are defined further complicate attempts to compile data. Our best estimate is that only half of all hate crimes are reported to law enforcement.
Following the violence last year in Charlottesville that resulted in one death, and again after the shooting in Pittsburgh, Congress officially condemned these acts of hatred and reaffirmed the right of every American to live without fear of violence or hate directed at them because of who they are. But condemning these acts is not enough. We must turn our attention to curbing this disturbing rise of vitriol and violence.
With a new year and a new Congress on the horizon, we have an opportunity to come together to repudiate this spread of hate. We must help local law enforcement identify and report hate crimes to the FBI; having adequate data is critical. Further, it is vital for all of us to reject the language of hate and dehumanization when it comes to our neighbors and communities. When we demonize others because of their religion or ethnicity or race or sexual orientation, hatred and violence will surely follow. Our diversity as a community, as a state, and as a country is our strength.
Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Burbank) represents California’s 28th Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives.