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Culture and Crisis Centers Share Their Reactions to Post-Election Spikes in Hate Crimes

Amazingly enough, the Trump administration is inadvertently bringing Jews and Muslims together.

In the first ten days after Donald Trump's unprecedented Presidential win, the Southern Poverty Law Center reported that nearly 900 hate crimes were reported around the country. Immigrants, Muslims, Jews, LGBTQ people, and others minority groups were targeted by individuals riding a vile wave of euphoria, ostensibly emboldened by a man who unabashedly trades in bigoted rhetoric winning the Oval Office.


Unfortunately, it seems as if this spike was more than just a post-election flare-up and these hateful herpes sores are planning to stick around for a while. Anti-Muslim hate groups have been multiplying around the nation, and the disease is also affecting other areas.

I reached out to a variety of community centers that cater to marginalized or vulnerable groups to see how they're reacting to, preparing for, and countering the recent surge in hate-based attacks. Though each person I spoke with had concerns about the coming years based on the strife they and their people had experienced, the majority seemed hopeful about the future of the country based on the outpouring of support they'd received from the silent and tolerant majority.

Before the election, those from the LGBTQ community were the likeliest targets of hate crimes. They were so used to this grim reality, in fact, that it took a string of post-election vandalisms for Gerald Coon, President of Diverse & Resilient, a Milwaukee LGBTQ center, to realize something new was at play.

"In the middle of December, we had the glass front of our building smashed in, and about a week after that another one of our windows was broken," says Coon. "We weren't sure if it they were related or not as there was no note or message. Then, last Thursday we came in and there was spray paint over the entire building and "fag" was there on the bricks. At that point we were like, OK, this is about us."


Nonetheless, Coon sees spray painters as small potatoes in the grand scheme of things. "I'm far more afraid of people who hide behind their politics or religion and seek to really cause harm to the LGBT community. Things like this vandalism, though, don't have any real power over us."

Kelly Taylor, the Assistant Director of Raleigh, North Carolina's LGBT Center, echoes Coon's concerns, pointing to the passing of an anti-Transgender law that shook the state in 2016.

"Part of our challenge," says Taylor, "has been getting it out there that it's not just the LGBT community that's affected. [Such laws] affect every single person in North Carolina, unless you are a straight, cis, white man."

Of course, changing hearts and minds can only be done after more immediate safety concerns are addressed. Amidst the spike in hate-crimes, the Raleigh center has beefed up its security for this new normal.

"We're installing additional cameras at our back door, some more at the front door, and we're now regularly changing the key codes," says Taylor. "We also have a resource officer, a member of the Raleigh Police Department who we can call at any time. If something happens we can run the incident by them and that's an added measure of security for us."

Karen Palmer, the Executive Director for CASA Women's Shelter in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, says her shelter has seen an uptick in abused LGBTQ guests, though she can't be certain "whether that is directly related to the election, or if people are just becoming more aware of the resources" available to them. Whatever the source of this boost, Palmer has committed resources to the assistance effort and hired a full-time advocate attorney "specifically for that category" as she plans on seeing more LGBTQ victims coming into the center.


America's Jewish communities are also experiencing a new wave of discrimination in conjunction with the rise of the alt-right.

rash of bomb threats has plagued temples, synagogues, and Jewish community centers around the country since the election, enough so that a Jewish reporter brought them up to the President in Thursday's press conference. While his particular location hasn't been targeted, Executive Director of LA's Valley Jewish Community Center, Jerry Wayne, says the looming threat is adding a "new layer of urgency" to their usual emergency preparedness drills.

"We do regularly schedule fire, earthquake, and bomb drills, so we make sure we know what we're doing in those scenarios. It hasn't changed the details of these routines, but it's certainly encouraged us to stay on top of them."

Wayne expressed personal feelings that the uptick in anti-semitism was part of a larger issue in the breakdown of civility between Americans and that the road to recovery must include a return to spirited philosophical debate over arguments. "There used to be a dialogue about these things," Wayne laments "but now it's just pitchforks. It all seems so different now from what this country's supposed to be about."

No group of individuals has received more hateful rhetoric from Trump and his supporters than the Muslim community, which should make it unsurprising that Muslims have been on the receiving end of a sizable share of the post-election attacks.


President Imam Muhammed Musri, who runs the Islamic community center, Center For Peace in Orlando, Florida, told me that his center had been "preparing for the worst" throughout 2016 because, "regardless of whether he was to become President or not, Trump opened Pandora's Box."

Musri told me that beyond fortifying their center with sturdier gates and additional security teams, the community has taken a "see something, say something" approach to potential trouble, both internally and externally. Suspicious figures skulking about the property are reported to local police, and the center is taking that department's safety best practices to heart, implementing whatever suggestions the PD deems best. Conversely, the center has taken a proactive approach to radicalization amongst their members, immediately reporting hints of seditious activity to the FBI before the ideology has an opportunity to take root.

Despite the vitriol Musri and his community have recently received, he remains steadfast in his sense of belonging, explaining that what Islamophobes "don't understand is that American Muslims are Americans. We're not going anywhere."

Dr. Saleh M. Sbenaty, Program Coordinator for the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro, Tennessee told me that, while his community has also been forced into a hyper-vigilant state, also willfully cooperating with local and federal law enforcement agencies and rigging up more cameras, he's found a silver lining to the spike in hate.

"We've made coalitions with churches, synagogues, community centers, and we're all cooperating together," says Sbenaty. "There was a bomb threat against a local temple recently and we made it public that we stand with the Jewish community against these sorts of racially-motivated incidents." It's not just the religious communities stepping up to show their support.  Sbenaty choked up while recounting that on the first Friday after the November election, the main day of prayer in Islam, "people showed up at the center and gave flowers to everyone inside as a sign of support. We still periodically find flowers and cards around the center."

This, to Sbenaty, outweighs the negativity and leaves him optimistic that the Trump years can be regarded an opportunity to educate those who may just have never met a Muslim before. And despite all the trials he now faces, he still feels that "this country is so great and the majority of the people in it are honest and good and that's what we need to cherish."

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