By Anna Boiko-Weyrauch
Owner Simeran Baidwan doesn’t know who scrawled “Hail Trump” on the sign of his restaurant Little India in Denver on Nov. 14. And he doesn’t know why.
“We got vandalized,” he said. “I don’t know what was the purpose here.”
Hate crimes in the United States and Colorado increased last year, amid the vitriolic discourse of the presidential election. There are also indications that hate crimes may have surged since Nov. 8.
Hate crimes include violent crimes like assault and murder, as well as property crimes like vandalism, that are motivated by bias. When people are targeted for immutable characteristics of their identity, their health suffers even more than it might otherwise after being victimized, according to a growing body of research.
In Colorado in 2015, law enforcement agencies reported 107 incidents to the FBI, up from 96 incidents the year before. Nationally, 5,850 incidents were reported, compared to 5,479 in 2014.
The largest motivation for hate crimes were race, ethnicity, ancestry, religion and sexual orientation. Last year in Colorado, 61 percent of incidents were against the victim’s race, ethnicity or ancestry, 15 percent were against religion and 19 percent were against sexual orientation.
Across the United States, 57 percent of incidents were against race, ethnicity or ancestry, 21 percent were against religion and 18 percent were against sexual orientation. The FBI data is far from perfect, as not every agency reports hate crimes to the agency.
Representatives from the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Council on American-Islamic Relations told USA Today they have received more complaints of intimidation of African-Americans, immigrants and Muslims since the election.
In Denver, three of this year’s 19 reports of bias-motivated crimes happened after Nov. 8, according to the Denver Police Department. At the University of Boulder, a Latina professor’s class was interrupted by a man shouting “go back to Mexico,” according to the Boulder Daily Camera. When asked about the uptick in violence, President-elect Donald J. Trump told supporters to “stop it” in an interview on “60 Minutes.”
The more a person feels targeted by racist actions and beliefs, the more it damages their mental health and is associated with depression, anxiety and psychological distress, according to a review of 138 studies of self-reported experiences of racism and health. Other studies have found health effects, such as obesity, cardiovascular problems and mental illness, are linked to experiencing racism, which causes the body to feel stress and release the hormone cortisol.
People who suffer bias-based crime suffer psychological consequences, such as stress, anger and depression, more intensely and for longer than if the same crime had not been motivated by bias, according to a study of lesbian and gay victims of assault, rape and robbery.
Jeremy Shaver, an associate director at the regional office of the Anti-Defamation League, said the group has received a few post-election anecdotes of hate speech in the Denver metro-area.
The “inflammatory and divisive” nature of the election created an atmosphere that could be conducive to hate speech, Shaver said.
“Some feel empowered to be open about their prejudice and bigotry and hatred,” he said.
Some Coloradans have responded to the negative atmosphere with expressions of support, instead of hate.
Kamel Elwazeir, secretary of The Islamic Society of Colorado Springs, said he has heard no reports of hate speech directed towards the city’s small community of Muslims since the election.
Instead, non-Muslims have called the mosque expressing support and offering to protect worshippers in the parking lot if need be.
The other day, a woman approached Elwazeir and offered her support while he was eating pizza with his wife and son at Costco. Elwazeir says his wife was wearing a hijab and he has a black beard, so it’s easy to tell the family is Muslim.
“It makes me feel really, really good that people are not afraid of me because of my faith,” he said.