Over the past six years, Muslim Americans have been the targets of violent hate crime and hate rhetoric, at a level unprecedented since the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
“Not a day goes by when I don’t hear about an incident at a school, a place of worship, or on the street,” said Zahra Billoo, Executive Director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations for the San Francisco Bay Area. She noted that 47 percent of Muslim American students in California have reported some form of bullying at the school site: from verbal harassment to physical assaults.
“People are hesitant to report, especially to law enforcement,” said Billoo. “But it is important that they do so immediately, while the memory of the incident is still fresh in their heads.” CAIR, a national organization, has a very robust system which immediately responds to people’s reports of possible hate crimes or hate incidents, she said.
Hussam Ayloush, Executive Director of CAIR-LA, said more than 650 hate incidents and attacks have been reported to his organization’s four offices in California over the past year. The number of cases has lowered slightly from previous years, he noted, adding however that this is due to fewer in-person interactions during the Covid-19 pandemic.
He too has seen vicious attacks at school sites, with Muslim students being beaten, hijabs being pulled off of young women’s heads, and name calling. In one particularly disturbing attack, a Syrian refugee was severely beaten and thrown into a swimming pool by his classmates. The students who perpetrated the attack stood up for each other and blamed the victim, who then faced expulsion.
Teachers Fomenting Violence
“We requested security camera footage,” said Ayloush, noting that the school initially hesitated, but then provided tape which showed the actual occurrence of events. He added that sometimes teachers foment such attacks as they discuss 9/11. CAIR has distributed training materials teaching educators how to discuss the terrorist attacks, which killed an estimated 3,000 people.
Billoo noted that CAIR advocates for prevention and restorative justice in school settings as much as possible. “We believe people can transform when they are educated and supported through the process.”
More than 1 million Muslim Americans live in California.
The Trump Factor
Since the beginning of the pandemic, the AAPI community has experienced over 11,000 self-reported hate crimes and incidents, according to data collected on the web portal StopAAPIHate. Many attribute the dramatic rise in bias-motivated crimes and speech to former President Donald Trump, who blamed the Chinese for creating and spreading Covid globally.
But the number of such incidents has continued to rise, even amid the current Biden administration. Particularly common forms of abuse are street harassment, school bullying, workplace discrimination, and violence or hate speech targeted at places of worship.
In July, the The California Department of Social Services, in partnership with the Commission on Asian and Pacific Islander American Affairs announced $30.3 million in funding to community-based organizations for its Stop the Hate Program.
Reporting Hate Crimes
The initiative provides grants to qualified organizations to provide support and services to victims and survivors of hate incidents and hate crimes and their families and facilitate hate incident or hate crime prevention measures. An additional $15 million was set aside to provide grants to ethnic media organizations for hate crime reporting.
CAIR’s four California offices collectively received $2.6 million in funding from the CDSS grant. Billoo and Ayloush said the funds would be used to expand the reach of the organization’s newly-launched Center For Hate and Bullying. California Attorney General Rob Bonta participated in the launch last November.
The Center is taking a five-prong approach to combating hate. The first prong is a training program for school districts, colleges, law enforcement, lawmakers, and other institutions that respond to incidents of hate. Billoo said the training incorporates how to identify Islamophobia, what the law requires around bullying prevention, and what restorative justice might look like.
FBI Uniform Crime Reports
The second prong involves advocacy: increasing funding for prevention programs and supporting state and local legislation addressing hate. One piece of legislation CAIR has long advocated for is the mandatory reporting of hate crimes by local law enforcement agencies. The FBI annually releases its Uniform Crime Reports, which — in part — track the number of hate crimes committed in the prior year. But currently, agencies can choose whether or not to participate in such data collection. Advocates believe this has led to a severe under-counting of hate crimes.
For example, in 2020, the last year for which UCR data is available, law enforcement agencies in California reported just 15 anti-Islamic bias-motivated crimes, and 10 anti-Arab hate crimes. Only 90 hate crimes against the AAPI community were reported that year in the FBI’s UCR.
Nation-wide in 2020, the FBI’s UCR reported just 279 hate crimes against AAPIs and 110 anti-Islamic hate crimes. The third prong of CAIR’s new Center will focus on better collection of data and analysis of data collected.
The fourth and fifth prongs will focus on educating Muslim Americans about how to report hate crimes or incidents, and will expand partnerships with other communities also impacted by hate violence.
“We have always been in a reactive mode. This grant will allow us to get ahead of the problem, and provide a statewide, comprehensive response,” said Ayloush.