OPED: Let's put a stop to hate crimes

Kiki Monifa
Tribune News Service

A few months ago, I was walking with my partner in the Jack London Square area of Oakland, California, when we were approached by five men in their late 20s or early 30s. One of them yelled (an intended insult) and another asked, "What are you two, a couple of lesbians?"

Kiki Monifa of Oakland, Calif., is editor-in-chief of Arise 2.0, a digital global publication focusing on news, issues and opinions impacting the LGBTQ of color community.

They surrounded us, and we were afraid. I replied, "Yes, but you say that as if that is a bad thing." I heard laughter. I'm not sure from whom. Fortunately, the group walked away.

As a black lesbian, I have had the N-word hurled at me more times than I care to remember. Ditto for the B-word. And when I weighed 200 pounds more, I was insulted based on my weight, a physical disability.

It did not occur to me to report any of these incidents as hate crimes. That's not surprising. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, more than half of hate crimes go unreported.

Hate crimes and incidents may be predicated on race, religion, disability, gender identity or immigrant status. They can range from property crimes to murder. And they are on the rise.

According to a report by the California Department of Justice released July 3, hate crimes in California rose more than 11 percent from 2015 to 2016, to a total of 931 incidents. Race-related hate crimes were up more than 20 percent.

And it's happening all over the country. "California is an amplified version of what's going on nationally," said professor Brian Levin, the director of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at Cal State San Bernardino.

It's not surprising that hate crimes have increased, given the current political climate. Politicians have emboldened white supremacist groups and stoked fears about immigrants and Muslims.

In the week following the 2016 presidential election, the Southern Poverty Law Center documented more than 700 "reports of hateful incidents of harassment around the country." The Council on American-Islamic Relations documented a 57 percent increase in anti-Muslim incidents in 2016 over 2015.

Recently, a Mississippi man became the first person prosecuted under the Hate Crimes Prevention Act, for the 2015 murder of a transgender teenage girl. He shocked her with a stun gun, stabbed her and bashed her head with a hammer.

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, responding to the recent report showing a rise in hate crimes, said in a statement, "When someone commits a crime motivated by hate, it is not just an attack on one innocent person, but an attack on the entire state and our communities."

Americans need to recognize the danger to our society posed by hate crimes and hateful behavior and work toward tolerance and acceptance. Lives depend on it.

Kiki Monifa of Oakland, California, is editor-in-chief of Arise 2.0, a digital global publication focusing on news, issues and opinions impacting the LGBTQ of color community.