Documenting Hate in the US

Safya Khan-Ruf - 24 07 17

The recent terror attacks in the UK have triggered a spike in hate crimes and incidents, a significant portion of it directed against British Muslims. After Donald Trump was elected in the USA reports of hate crimes, discrimination and bias also rose in America, but there was little concrete data about these incidents, especially low-level complaints concerning bullying or harassment – until now.

An increasing number of news organisation are joining up to tackle hate. ProPublica, an independent non-profit newsroom that produces investigative journalism, launched the Documenting Hate project six months ago to overcome this issue of poor data collection. A wide range of organisations have become involved, including The Google News Lab, Univision News, the New York Times Opinion Section and Buzzfeed News.

“The 2016 election left many in America afraid – of intolerance and the violence it can inspire. The need for trustworthy facts on the details and frequency of hate crimes and other incidents born of prejudice has never been more urgent,” the project website states.

Technology companies have partnered up with more than 100 organisations in the collaborative journalism project. News outlets, civil rights groups and universities are collecting and verifying incident reports from various sources including social media and law enforcement records.

Breaking the silence

The Bureau of Justice Statistics estimates around 250,000 hate crimes occur in a year but the FBI only records around 6,000 annually.

A possible explanation is that most victims of hate crimes don’t report incidents to police, as shown in this study. Some are worried the Trump administration’s tough rhetoric and policies have made people more afraid to come forward.

The Documenting Hate project receives thousands of reported hate incidents which are then verified and published through various news outlets.

One common thread to the reports has been people of colour being harassed with calls to “Go back to your country” – whether they were immigrants or US citizens.

These incidents are not limited to adults. Buzzfeed discovered more than 50 incidents last month of kids using Trump’s rhetoric to bully Middle Eastern, black, Asian or Jewish classmates.

“One Mexican-American 10th-grade girl in Indiana said that her white classmates sang the Dora the Explorer theme song every time she stepped onto the bus, along with shouts of “Build that wall” and jokes about deportation. She told her mother not to report it because she hoped “it would stop after a while.” An eighth-grade girl from Wyoming said that after the election, a group of boys in her class who vocally supported Trump began calling her “Jew girl.” She said she wasn’t sure if their actions were bad enough for her to tell a teacher. “I just started sticking up to them myself,” she said. 

Several stories published through the project focused on racial harassment on public transportation. Univision covered multiple incidents involving Latinos targeted in incidents on the New York City subway.

While the UK has no similar project documenting hate, plans have been made for a major hate crime awareness campaign across London.

The project will use tactics from the successful Transport for London Report It to Stop It campaign which led to and increase in arrests for sexual harassment on public transport.

The campaign will develop public awareness of, and the importance of reporting, hate crimes.


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