On March 2, a 39-year-old African-American man was killed after opening a letter bomb in Austin, TX. Yesterday, Monday, March 12, two more letter bombs killed another Austin resident, a 17-year-old African-American male, and severely injured a 75-year-old Hispanic woman within hours of each other. In each case, the packages were not delivered by a carrier but left outside their doors.
No suspect has been apprehended, and the police are still searching for a proven motive, but Austin’s Police Chief believes that the incidents are related and may be a hate-crime given the victims’ races.
For the Arab-American and Muslim-American communities, these deadly attacks are a painful reminder of the racially and religious-motivated violence our communities have been enduring for years, a situation that has only worsened with Trump’s election.
In Texas, there were five reported attacks and assaults against Arab and Muslim institutions last year, including the vandalizing of an Islamic cemetery, which is a felony. This past month, someone threw a large rock through the window door of the Islamic Center in Henry County, Virginia. The most recent hate crime statistics from the FBI show that anti-Arab and anti-Muslim assaults are the worst on record. Hate crimes were up 91% for the first six-months of 2017 compared with the same period in 2016. This hatred can be tragically deadly as when two non-Muslim men were stabbed to death for coming to the defense of a veiled Muslim woman who was being harassed on a Portland, Oregon train.
Too often, however, anti-Arab and anti-Muslim hate crimes are not categorized as hate crimes by the local authorities. The failure to identify and prosecute racially and religious-motivated violence under the federal hate crime statute (Hate Crime Prevention Act) undermines the ability of victims to seek proper redress for the violation of their rights. Moreover, the hate crime law, which increases penalties for the convicted assailant, was meant to serve as a disincentive for hate crimes. But if assailants believe that the authorities will treat an attack on a mosque as petty vandalism rather than a more severe hate crime carrying the greater punishment, then the incentive to avoid such destructive behavior collapses.
The hate crime law was passed by Congress because of the failure of too many police departments to adequately protect minority and marginalized victims. This is why the law empowers the Justice Department to step in and take on a local case. Sadly, under Trump, we cannot rely on a committed Justice Department to be a watch guard for victimized groups.
That responsibility falls on all of us to report hate crimes and demand our local officials prosecute racist violence under the hate crime statute.