Last year in Kalamazoo, an 18-year-old service employee who is African-American said she was cursed at with racial remarks by a white customer who also spat on her and told her that Donald Trump was president.
In Grand Rapids, a cab driver and immigrant from Ethiopia, Yemaj Adem, was beat up by a passenger who yelled "Trump" at him.
Just last week a 1,700-member African-American church in Wayne — which had seen racial attacks with slurs and swastikas previously — was vandalized again in what the pastor said might be another hate crime.
And in Brighton, a woman said two men approached her and said: "Just so you know, we hate (anti-gay slur) and so does our president.”
The hate crimes in Michigan documented by the Southern Poverty Law Center last year were part of a spike in bias incidents post-election, said civil rights advocates and state officials.
Recently, FBI statistics confirmed what advocates have seen anecdotally: There was a substantial increase in reported hate crimes in Michigan in 2016, a spike that was much higher than the increase seen nationally.
Hate crimes reported to police jumped 29.1% from 309 to 399 last year in Michigan, which had the fourth-highest number among all states in the U.S., according to data released Nov. 13 by the FBI.
The 29.1% increase in Michigan was much greater than the 4.6% increase nationally from 2015 to 2016, from 5,850 reported hate crimes to 6,121,the data showed.
Michigan has the 10th largest number of residents and so having the fourth highest number of reported hate crimes has alarmed some advocates. And they say the actual number of hate crimes may be even higher than the reported total because some law enforcement agencies often don't report the crimes to the FBI.
"Hate crimes are happening more often than actually reported," said Rashida Tlaib, a former state representative now with the Sugar Law Center for Economic and Social Justice in Detroit.
African Americans were the biggest victim nationally, making up just over half of all targets of racial hate crimes, with Jews and Muslims the biggest victims in terms of religion.
Out of the 399 hate crimes reported in Michigan in 2016, 282 were motivated by race/ethnicity/ancestry, 47 by religion, 59 by sexual orientation, 6 by disability, 5 by gender.
Last year, the Michigan Department of Civil Rights said there was a sharp increase in reported hate incidents after the November election.
Detroit, which reported 32 hate crimes in 2016, saw a spike in the last quarter of the year, with 13 hate crimes in the last three months — higher than in each of the previous three quarters. CNN reported that hate crimes usually decrease in the last quarter of the year, but in 2016 they increased nationally during the last quarter.
In addition to election tensions, another possible reason for the high number of hate crimes in Michigan may be because of the increased reporting of hate crimes, by victims and by police agencies to the FBI. Michigan had the fifth highest number of law enforcement agencies, 625, who participated in the FBI's voluntary effort to report hate crimes through its Uniform Crime Reporting program. In Michigan, there were 166 agencies who submitted hate crime reports, the second highest after only California. Police are not required to participate in reporting hate crimes to the FBI.
In addition to election tensions, another possible reason for the high number of hate crimes in Michigan may be because of the increased reporting of hate crimes, by victims and by police agencies to the FBI.
Michigan had the fifth highest number of law enforcement agencies, 625, who participated in the FBI's voluntary effort to report hate crimes through its Uniform Crime Reporting program. In Michigan, there were 166 agencies who submitted hate crime reports, the second highest after only California. Police are not required to participate in reporting hate crimes to the FBI.
In Michigan, there are "strong advocacy groups in our state pushing families to report the incidents," said civil rights advocate Tlaib. "Michigan happens to have great support groups to victims who do come forward. Those groups help increase awareness and provide courage."
Last year in November, the U.S. Attorney's Office in Detroit and the FBI Detroit Office put out a statement saying they take hate crimes seriously and will prosecute perpetrators. But some advocates have criticized them for not pursuing cases.
At a conference in May at synagogue Congregation Shaarey Zedek in Southfield,federal attorneys with the U.S. Attorney's Office in Detroit said prosecuting hate crimes can be challenging because federal laws and court rulings have created a high threshold to charge someone with those types of crimes.
"Prosecuting hate crimes is a priority of the Department of Justice and the U.S. Attorney’s Office," Acting U.S. Attorney Daniel Lemisch said in a statement to the Free Press. "If the evidence proves that a criminal targeted victims based on their race, religion, gender or national origin, this office will prosecute to the fullest extent of the law. The U.S. Attorney’s Office continues to work with our agency partners, such as the FBI, the Michigan Department of Civil Rights, and others, to provide meaningful outreach to communities to increase the reporting and understanding of hate crimes.
"This year we co-hosted the Michigan Alliance Against Hate Crimes Conference and provided several informational sessions related to hate crimes to community groups and at law enforcement trainings.”
The Detroit FBI Supervisory Special Agent who oversees civil rights, public corruption, and international human rights for the FBI in Wayne County, David Porter, said of hate crimes: "We take this very seriously."
"We are out in collaboration with local law enforcement all the time working ... building upon our relationships so people know they can call to report hate crimes," Porter told the Free Press. "Protecting individual civil rights is very important to the FBI." '
After Detroit, which had 32 reported hate crimes, Flint had the second highest number among cities with 16 hate crimes, 14 in Dearborn, 10 in Warren, 9 in West Bloomfield, 7 in Highland Park, 7 in Traverse City, 6 in Inkster, and 5 in Hamtramck.
Concern about hate crimes is felt by many in metro Detroit's diverse communities, including Muslim Americans, said Rebecca Karam, a doctoral student in sociology at the City University of New York who wrote a report on Muslim Americans in Michigan published by the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding, based in Dearborn.
A survey released in March by the Institute found that more than 42% of Muslims in the U.S. with children in K–12 school reported bullying of their children because of their religion. And 38% of Muslims expressed fear for their personal safety or their family because of white supremacist groups.
"The FBI stats only provide a partial picture of hate crimes in this country," Karam said.
Trump's retweeting last week of videos from a leader of a right-wing group in England with anti-Muslim views has brought renewed attention to the issue of hate crimes.
"Hate crimes motivated by anti-Muslim bias are at an all-time high, and the president’s words and actions further inflame this violence," said Farhana Khera, executive director of Muslim Advocates.
David Kurzmann, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Metropolitan Detroit (JCRC), said that "both statistically and anecdotally, I'm hearing from (the Anti-Defamation League), there is quite an uptick" in hate crimes.
The "Hope Against Hate" conference in Southfield organized by the Jewish Council featured talks by leaders with the U.S. Attorney's Office in Detroit.
"When people feel emboldened to act out and target minorities, no one is immune, no one is exempt," Kurzmann said. "Every community that is different can find itself a target and the Jewish community has seen that."
"It's a challenging time," added Kurzmann, whose group works on building relationships with diverse communities. "My optimism is that sometimes, the hardships push people together."
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