Trump’s rhetoric is having a devastating impact on Muslim and South Asian communities

A new report shows a direct correlation between the president's words and mounting hate crimes.

People gather near a photograph of Srinivas Kuchibhotla, the 32-year-old Indian engineer killed at a bar Olathe, Kansas, during a peace vigil in Bellevue, Washington on March 5, 2017.  CREDIT: JASON REDMOND/AFP/Getty Images
People gather near a photograph of Srinivas Kuchibhotla, the 32-year-old Indian engineer killed at a bar Olathe, Kansas, during a peace vigil in Bellevue, Washington on March 5, 2017. CREDIT: JASON REDMOND/AFP/Getty Images

President Trump’s rhetoric and policies are driving a spike in hate crimes and violence directed at Muslim and South Asian communities, a new report indicates.

During the year between November 9, 2016 and November 7, 2017, incidents of Islamophobia and harassment and violence towards certain communities in the United States rose dramatically, according to South Asian Americans Leading Together, or SAALT. The organization documented 302 incidents of hate-based violence or rhetoric in the year following Trump’s election, all aimed at South Asian, Muslim, Sikh, Hindu, Arab, and Middle Eastern communities. Around 82 percent of those incidents were anti-Muslim in nature. One in five involved Trump’s name, or a slogan or policy associated with the president.

That’s a striking correlation and one of the starkest indicators yet that Trump’s rhetoric and policies have fueled an uptick in violence. SAALT’s report reflects essentially the entire year following Trump’s election, a longer period than has been covered by much of the previous data on hate crimes during this administration published so far.

Rising Islamophobia has disproportionately impacted South Asian communities in the United States. The community’s visibility has made many members a target, with tragic consequences.

One stand-out tragedy was the murder of Srinivas Kuchibhotla, an Indian citizen killed in an alleged hate crime in Kansas. Trump remained silent on Kuchibhotla’s murder for six days, finally condemning the killing after mounting criticism. That’s part of a larger pattern for the president, who is quick to comment on tragedies when a Muslim or person of color is responsible, but who often remains silent when those communities fall victim to violence.

Suman Raghunathan, Executive Director of SAALT, told ThinkProgress that the president’s approach to such incidents seems to have bolstered those already prone to Islamophobic behavior.

“The President has exercised his right to remain selectively silent and at times that align with his administration’s white supremacist agenda, such as in the aftermath of mass shootings in Las Vegas. He has otherwise opted to call white supremacists ‘very fine people’ in the aftermath of terrorism in Charlottesville,” said Raghunathan. “Yet, when a tragedy involves a perpetrator who is presumed Muslim, the president resorts to inflammatory rhetoric that creates an environment of anger, fear, and suspicion for Muslims and those perceived to be Muslim.”

A number of organizations and publications have monitored the rise of hate crimes in the time since Trump’s election. Data collected by ThinkProgress between November 2016 and February 2017 showed rising violence against Black, Latinx, LGBTQ, Muslim, and Jewish communities. The release of the FBI’s 2016 Unified Crime Report reinforced those findings. Muslim, Jewish, and LGBTQ organizations told ThinkProgress in November that the 2016 data confirmed that Trump’s rise has imperiled their communities.

“Given the rise of the Trump campaign, white nationalism, the prominence of people like [white nationalist] Richard Spencer, these folks who have been empowered by Trump’s candidacy, it’s not surprising to see the rise in hate,” Ryan Ahari, a policy analyst with the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC), said at that time. “They’ve been validated. A lot of folks have seen the dog whistles that Trump has been blowing to his supporters and people feel emboldened. They have decided to act out on their violent thoughts.”

Violence directed at Muslim and immigrant communities isn’t new. After 9/11, Islamophobic and xenophobic sentiment spiked in the United States. Much of the vitriol directly impacted South Asians, many of whom are assumed to be Muslim, despite the diversity of the community, which includes those who are Hindu, Sikh, or practice a variety of other faiths.

As South Asians and other communities of color came under attack, a culture of surveillance also grew. Law enforcement officials targeted mosques and neighborhoods in an effort to locate extremists. Those efforts alienated community members and instilled a sense of fear. While some progress has been made — the NYPD reached a settlement in March 2017 in a case accusing the police department of illegally surveilling Muslims — mistrust remains.

Unwillingness to go to law enforcement following harassment or violence skews data on hate crimes, something for which SAALT sought to account. The organization’s findings are based on incidents reported directly to the organization through an online form, an intentional methodology.

“Our communities do not feel safe to report incidents of violence or harassment to the police because they feel the experience may lead to a compounding of their injury at the hands of law enforcement,” Raghunathan explained. “The use of an online form and public hotlines that provide legal support have been effective in providing community members an outlet and sometimes even recourse so they are not suffering in silence after an incident.”

While SAALT’s report focuses predominately on South Asian, Muslim, and Middle Eastern communities in the United States, the organization emphasizes the intersectional nature of the violence. Muslim women who choose to cover their heads are disproportionately visible, making them among those most likely to be targeted. Anti-Blackness and colorism — discrimination based on skin tone — also play a major role, according to SAALT’s data.

“Hate violence often occurs at the intersection of anti-Muslim, xenophobic, racist, anti-women and femme, anti-Black, homophobic and transphobic, classist, and casteist systems. In response to these complexities, it is often Muslim, Dalit, Black, queer, and immigrant women and femmes who are leading efforts to fight the onslaught of hate,” the report reads.

Raghunathan cited those intersections as an incentive for coalition-building between communities, highlighting the importance of “building long-term power” across communities of color, and collaborative activism, such as the protests against Trump’s various travel bans, all of which targeted refugees and citizens from a number of predominately Muslim-majority countries.

“It’s important that the nation sees the complete and coordinated attack on our immigration system as a struggle that impacts all of us,” she said, acknowledging the White House’s attacks on the H-1B visa in particular, which allows highly-skilled workers — a disproportionate number of whom are Indian — to stay in the United States. She also pointed to a proposed immigration plan from the White House that would provide protection for more than a million young undocumented immigrants who came to the country as children at the expense of other immigrant communities.

“We must feel equally invested in pushing back against this anti-immigrant agenda as we are with policies such as the Muslim Ban,” she said, emphasizing that immigrant communities should not be pit themselves against one another.

SAALT’s report advocates for a number of measures to prevent against future violence, including the passage of anti-racial profiling legislation and vigilance from the Department of Justice in addressing hate crimes. But Raghunathan said it’s unlikely the trend will slow any time soon.

“We don’t believe the worst is behind us. In just one year we saw a 45 percent increase in hate violence and xenophobic political rhetoric from the year leading up to the election,” she said. “White supremacy also remains on the rise, and we are witnessing the resurgence of organized hate groups, particularly anti-Muslim groups, across the country. If this growth continues, emboldened by this administration’s anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant agenda, we expect to see increasing hate attacks.”