On May 26, 2017, Destinee Mangum and Walia Mohamed, two Black Muslim teenage girls, were riding a light rail train in Portland, Oregon, when a White supremacist attacked them with racist verbal abuse. The assailant, Jeremy Joseph Christian, then stabbed three men who intervened in the girls’ defense, killing two and injuring the third.
Christian was widely known for his hate speech and threatening comments. On social media, he shared Nazi sympathies and racist memes. At a “March for Free Speech” rally in April, he appears in a video wearing a Revolutionary War-era American flag, casting Nazi salutes, and shouting, “Die all Muslims!” Just a day before the stabbings occurred, he threw a bottle at a Black woman as she was exiting a train. Portland police officers were already familiar with Joseph’s racism and his violent threats, but they claimed he was mentally ill.
Mangum and Mohamed’s horrifying experience is a snapshot of the rise in hate violence that has emerged since the campaign and election of President Donald Trump. And for the first time since the stabbing, they offer their testimony in a new book, “American Hate: Survivors Speak Out,” published earlier this month (August 8).
Editor and civil rights attorney Arjun Singh Sethi records the stories of people whose lives have been rocked by hate. He spent hours meeting with survivors and worked with them to ensure their testimonies were authentically represented. “American Hate” recounts the material consequences of hate violence and provides a tool that can empower communities to fight back.
In recent years, the mainstream media has increasingly covered marginalized communities, including those who have been affected by hate incidents and crimes. But many news outlets report on hate crimes as random incidents, disconnected from historic, systemic violence. “The media parachutes in and quickly leaves. Many survivors feel used and exploited.” Sethi told Colorlines. “Sometimes it seems like the media is more interested in humanizing White supremacists and neo-Nazis than survivors of hate violence.”
Hate crimes in the United States are underreported because local law enforcement are not mandated to report them to the Federal Bureau of Investigation. And there are currently five states without hate crime laws—Arkansas, Georgia, Indiana, South Carolina, Wyoming. In 2016, the FBI reported an estimated 6,000 hate-crime incidents in the United States. But there could be as many as 250,000 hate crimes a year, according to the National Crime Victimization Survey, a self-reporting tool administered by the Bureau of Justice Statistics. Many police departments downplay or ignore hate victims’ complaints. ”Law enforcement across the country has not taken the reporting of hate crimes in the country seriously and are often not familiar with the different communities that are targeted and vulnerable to hate crimes,” Sethi said.
The Jabaras, a Lebanese-American family from Tulsa, Oklahoma, who share their story in the book, experienced the deadly consequences of this practice. When Vernon Majors, a White supremacist, moved in next door, he terrorized the family: He entered their property to take pictures of the mother, Haifa; he called Haifa and spewed terrorizing language and threats; and he knocked on the family’s windows at night. Ultimately, the violence escalated, and the White supremacist ran Haifa over with a car.
The police arrested Majors and a judge revoked his bond. But months later, a new prosecutor unfamiliar with Majors’ history allowed the bond to be posted. Majors returned home. On August 12, 2016, Khalid, Haifa’s son, heard gunshots coming from Majors’ home. He called police to report that there was a dangerous White supremacist with a gun next door. When law enforcement arrived at Majors’ door, no one answered. They returned to the Jabara home and said there was nothing they could do. Minutes later, after the police left, Majors fatally shot Khalid.
“A hate-crime charge was brought in the murder case, but under Oklahoma law, it is just a misdemeanor,” Victoria Jabara, Khalid’s sister says in the book. “The most serious charge is murder in the first degree. From my mom’s perspective, it doesn’t matter.”
“Nothing will bring my son back,” Haifa says. “But if we were White, [Majors] would never have touched us. I truly believe that.”
Activists in other parts of the country have developed alternatives to involving police. Sarath Suong, cofounder and executive director of The Providence Youth Student Movement (PrYSM), shares how his community developed a youth organization in response to racist violence, killings and deportations of Cambodian-American refugees in Providence, Rhode Island.
“The government saw us as a threat and called us gangs,” Suong says. “The Providence Police Department then created a gang database to survey and monitor our daily lives.”
In 2016, Suong says PrYSM was the target of a hate crime, when their offices were broken into and vandalized. Instead of calling the police, organizers decided to implement their own safety plan. They created a neighborhood watch program, developed a buddy check-in system, offered self-defense classes and took on additional security measures.
Throughout “American Hate,” survivors testify to the outgrowth of hate that has emerged from America’s violent history and the virulent racist policies of the Trump administration. In response, Sethi offers possible solutions: to prosecute hate incidents as criminal acts; to give funding for victims of hate, and to treat hate as a public health crisis that affects not just individuals, but also communities; and to support local grassroots movements.
And Sethi calls on us to reckon with our country’s violent past. “We must acknowledge that this country was built on a hate crime,” he writes. “Hate has been a fixture of our country for as long as it has existed. Land theft, slavery, segregation, xenophobia, and exclusion are defining features of our history. So is the ideology of White supremacy.”