Why the rise in hate?

Maryland has seen a sharp increase in reported incidents of hate. About this there simply is no question. As The Baltimore Sun’s Catherine Rentz has reported, there has been a 35 percent uptick in claims of harassment, threats and attacks based on religion, race or sexual orientation during the last two years. Some instances, like the stabbing death of a visiting black Bowie State University student at the University of Maryland last year, are well known. Others, such as the 53-year-old African American woman living near Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport who found her car splattered with raw egg and a “Go back to Africa” note on her front door last January, are less in the public eye.

What they have in common is that all are alarming and repugnant. No civil person can think otherwise. Collectively, however, they raise the question: Why here and why now?

Let’s start with one proviso — the business of counting incidents of hate is imprecise. Some are reported, doubtless many or not. That means it’s not always clear whether a change in numbers of incidents reported over any given amount of time is due to more incidents taking place or more people willing to contact police about them. Here’s one indicator of the uncertainty of reporting: 80 percent of the state’s 161 law enforcement agencies reported no hate incidents during the last two years. Under-reporting is probably the norm — as experts have long asserted. Still, it’s difficult not to perceive the two-year increase as a significant change given that hate crime reports statewide were in decline from 2006 to 2014, according to Maryland State Police.

Thus, what we are witnessing is not an arbitrary statistical blip but a boost in hate incidents driven, at least in part, by an unmistakable rise in the white supremacist movement. And it is simply impossible to observe that movement without perceiving President Donald Trump at its center. The president’s sharp attacks on immigration and particularly at the southern border, his anger toward the Black Lives Matter movement and disinterest in incidents of police brutality toward minorities, his defense of the neo-Nazis (“very fine people on both sides”) marching in Charlottesville, Va., in the summer of 2017 and his disparagement of his black critics (frequently suggesting they are not intelligent or “low-IQ”) or referring to Mexicans as rapists or Latinos generally as an “infestation” or in similar sub-human terms have placed him at the vanguard of 21st century bigotry.

And it’s not just racial or religious resentment that President Trump foments. He is given to using incendiary language at his rallies, like when, as a candidate, he casually suggested “Second Amendment people” (meaning gun owners) do “something to stop” Hillary Clinton. Or when he recently praised a Montana congressman who admitted to assaulting a reporter. Or when he offered to pay legal fees to anyone who got in trouble for getting violent with protesters at an Iowa campaign event.

Mr. Trump’s casual racism has become so commonplace that he may have set a new norm for how Americans talk about race, religion and nationality — and not in a good way. There was the time he suggested a federal judge couldn’t fairly oversee a court case involving Trump University because he was of “Mexican heritage.” Or even earlier when Mr. Trump was a leading voice in the “birther” movement claiming that Barack Obama was Muslim and not born in this country. His evidence? There wasn’t any. He simply saw an opportunity to prey on people’s fears of the unknown, on someone who looked different from them.

Maryland is clearly not the only state to see an increase in incidents of hate. But Marylanders would be well served if they took the time to read the details about the incidents reported these last two years, as sickening as they may be. The noose hanging in a middle school. The transgender girl chased by kids throwing rocks. The elementary student who shouted in school, after President Trump’s election, “White people rule!” Hate crimes aren’t commonly prosecuted. But their frequency is more a symptom, a sign that over the last 24 months, the country has taken a giant step backward in race relations and tolerance of religious, ethnic and gender diversity.

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