In light of the tragic murder of 11 worshippers at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh and the bombs mailed to 14 people and a media outlet (CNN) who President Trump has called out as his enemies, I’m going to postpone the discussion of tribal politics and talk about the capacity of speech to inspire violence.
Hate crimes in the nation’s 10 largest cities increased by 12 percent last year, reaching the highest level in more than a decade, according to a report in May by the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University at San Bernardino. The study finds African Americans are the most frequent target, followed by Jews.
Back in May, Brian Levin, a professor of criminal justice and the director of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism wrote that international conflicts and “highly charged elections” can correlate to precipitous increases in hate crimes, just as the days following the 2016 presidential election saw a record spike.
It certainly looks like this will be another dangerous election year for those targeted by hate-filled individuals who see them as the source of the nation’s problems. Demonization of people, based on their ethnicity, skin color, religion or politics can lead unstable people to violent acts. It can also lead to mob violence.
What does this have to do with you and me? Unstable individuals or those acting as a mob are influenced by the surrounding society. It’s important to question whether your speech could incite someone to violence, even if you would never dream of acting violently yourself.
It is absolutely essential that hate speech is not seen as acceptable. In my personal experience and that of others I’ve talked to about it, this speech is on the rise and received with more tolerance than it has been for many years. Speak up when you hear hate speech and make it clear it’s not acceptable to you.
There has been an even greater increase in “dog whistles” or coded references to a targeted group or person that signal people to blame and hate it. Examples include “globalist”, which has been directed at Jews for many decades to signal their lack of loyalty to their nation, calling someone a fascist when they aren’t affiliated with actual fascism or calling immigrants an “infestation.”
Of course, only people who act violently against other people are ultimately responsible for their actions, but we are all responsible, in part, if we help to create the atmosphere of hatred and fear that inspires them.