National Politics Can Inspire Hate Crimes, Expert Says

Can national politics inspire hate crimes? Mark Potok, who studies hate crime data as a Senior Fellow at the Southern Poverty Law Center, says yes.

Hate crimes against Muslims peaked dramatically in 2001, with the large bulk of the crimes taking place in the months following September 11th. Then Latinos became a target in the mid-2000's as the immigration debate intensified, Potok says. Between 2003 and 2007, there was approximately a 40 percent increase in hate crimes against Latinos, according to FBI hate crime data. Check out our interactive graphic here.

"That's the period where we hear Lou Dobbs ranting about immigrants bringing leprosy and crime across the borders, and he certainly wasn't the only one," Potok said in reference to the former CNN anchor, known for his strong stance on illegal immigration.

The latest available data shows a sharp decline in hate crimes against Latinos in 2011, which Potok says correlates with his perception that "anti-Latino rhetoric has scaled back" in recent years.

However, we don't know if the decline in anti-Latino hate crimes will continue, as FBI data on hate crimes for 2012 and 2013 has yet to be released.

A number of recent attacks against Latinos have police departments worried that immigrant groups, including Latinos, remain targets. In the 30,000-person city of Englewood, New Jersey, for example, there have been six attacks against Latino immigrants in just a month period.

"We have information that Hispanics are being targeted," Police Chief Arthur O'Keefe of Englewood said last month to NorthJersey.com. "These are not isolated incidents."

The Englewood police, like many other police departments around the country, believe hate crimes and offenses might actually go under reported in immigrant communities because of the fear of being deported if one is undocumented.

"The police are not interested in your immigration status," said Detective Capt. Tim Torell of the Engelwood police department. "If you're a victim of a crime, were not going to do less for you than anyone else."

The FBI gathers hate crime data on a state-by-state basis, however each state has slightly different qualifications for what constitutes a hate crime. In many states, the classification can apply to defamation of property (a disproportionate number of anti-Semitic hate crimes are property based) to murder and assault. Within the 15 year span of data from 1996-2011, there have been over 10,000 Latino victims of hate crimes.

Potok believes that we may see an uptick in crimes against Muslims in 2013, following the Boston bombing incidents.

"Words have consequences," Potok warned. "Particularly when they come from people with prominent positions in the national debate."

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