I really wanted to write about something happy for this issue. No politics, no tantrum-prone U.S. presidents, no talk of settlements or sanctions or sanctimony.
And then I saw something on the New York Times website that stopped me in my tracks. Did you know that the Times runs a weekly feature in its Opinion section called “This Week in Hate”?
It turns out that the paper has done so since Donald Trump – aptly nicknamed “President Me” by columnist Frank Bruni – was elected president in November.
“Reliable data on hate crimes is hard to come by,” the paper’s editorial board wrote on January 17. “As reports of racist, anti-Semitic and Islamophobic harassment and attacks poured in after the election of Donald Trump, many Americans wondered whether they represented a nationwide increase in hate crime.”
So the paper has teamed with ProPublica, a nonprofit group, and a coalition of other organizations to work on a project called Documenting Hate, which will gather date and information about hate crimes around the U.S. http://tinyurl.com/gn5s6ct
No doubt the folks at the Times would like to prove that the frequency and/or severity of hate crimes have increased since the election of Trump.
After completely misreading the mood of the American electorate during the presidential campaign, the Times has made it its mission to fact-check and/or discredit virtually every Tweet, pronouncement and policy of the new commander-in-chief, as if we need daily reminders that Trump is the least qualified – intellectually, temperamentally and morally – president in U.S. history.
If this feature is just another way of keeping score of Trump’s failures, then it feels more like a stunt than a public service.
But, if, as the ProPublica site claims, this will actually provide policymakers and law enforcement agencies access to more accurate data about hate crimes than in the past, it could be a good thing. And, as ProPublica points out, reporting these incidents will make it harder for those in power to ignore the problem.
It’s not enough, however, for the news media just to keep statistics on hate crimes. We need more analysis of what is motivating these attacks and strategies for making racist, anti-Semitic, anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant views unacceptable.
The Times lauded the Canadian response to the murders at the Quebec City mosque. The paper pointed out that the soul-searching and expressions of solidarity by ordinary Canadians, and by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard were in stark contrast to the knee-jerk response of the Trump administration, which used the shooting to justify its anti-immigrant policies.
It’s sad that there is enough hate crime to keeps teams of researchers, journalism students and veteran journalists busy. But, if a recent incident in New York is the result of this kind of scrutiny, then maybe it’s a good thing.
Earlier this month, the windows and posters of a No. 1 subway train were defaced with anti-Semitic graffiti. The messages included such phrases as “Jews belong in the oven,” and “Destroy Israel, Heil Hitler.”
Many of the passengers were appalled, but no one did anything until a woman wondered out loud if it could be removed. A sous-chef named Jared Nied, who had boarded the train at 42nd Street, remembered that alcohol can remove Sharpie ink.
“A light bulb went on, and I just asked, ‘Does anyone have hand sanitizer?’” he told the Times.
Passengers began searching pockets and purses for wipes, gels and tissues. Within five minutes and before train had reached 96th Street, all the Nazi symbolism was gone.
The incident was never reported to the police. But a New York lawyer named Gregory Locke posted photos and a description that went viral on Facebook. http://tinyurl.com/haw7hs8
Sounds like something out of a Hollywood movie. But wouldn’t it be great if this incident empowers others to take similar action?
We don’t just have to fight hate crimes. Ignorance is also dangerous.
So kudos to B’nai Brith Canada, the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs and Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center for challenging a trade school in British Columbia that had a policy of not admitting Israelis “due to conflict and illegal settlement activity in the region.”
Not only did the school reverse its policy, but the incident mobilized other community organizations to support the Jewish agencies.
So maybe this is a happy column after all. Perhaps for every story about hate and ignorance, we need a story about ordinary people doing their part to fight these plagues – then follow their example.