In our current social and political climate, it is easy to attribute the recent wave of hate crimes in Massachusetts to the Trump administration. But these attacks did not take place in a vacuum. Even in our progressive communities, we must take responsibility for fostering a culture of racism and exclusion.
Last month, the Executive Office of Public Safety and Security reported that hate crimes in Massachusetts have increased by almost 10 percent to a 10-year high in 2017. This troubling spike in bias-related incidents is reflected nationally. According to a recent FBI report, hate crimes across the country rose 17 percent in 2017 to 7,175, even as rates of overall violent crime fell between 2016 and 2017. This represents the highest number of hate crimes in a decade and the third consecutive year of increasing hate crimes.
In commentaries with titles like “Trump’s Era of Hate,” opinion writers have castigated the president for legitimizing and “emboldening bigots,” and identified the primary victims of the hate crimes, including Muslim-Americans, immigrants and transgender people, as the targets of his attacks on and off the campaign trail.
We cannot begin or end our conversations about bigotry and prejudice with President Trump.
But laying all the blame on President Trump ignores the forces that swept him into office and that linger in every corner of the commonwealth. Bias-motivated assaults and property crimes may be shocking reminders of racism, but they are far from its only manifestation.
Even though Massachusetts was ranked No. 1 in the country for education and No. 2 for health care by U.S. News and World Report in 2017, the commonwealth “failed to crack the top 15 on any item related to racial equality.” In fact, the Massachusetts Legislature is “one of the least diverse in the country”; throughout the state, communities of color are largely monitored by predominantly white police forces. Cities like Brockton and Worcester, many of whose students are low-income, immigrants or people of color, struggle to provide basic amenities for public school students.
... the commonwealth “failed to crack the top 15 on any item related to racial equality.”
Right here in Boston, people of color are turned down for mortgages at a higher rate and live in substantially poorer neighborhoods than white people in the same income bracket. White households have a median wealth of over $200,000, while U.S. black and Dominican households have a median wealth of $8 and $0, respectively.
No conversation about prejudice is complete without an examination of these local inequities — none of which were caused by Trump. We should not be surprised that there has been an explosion in hate crimes in one of the most segregated metropolitan areas in the country, where people of color are excluded from and invisible in public life.
As Boston Mayor Martin Walsh has noted, progressive Boston has struggled — and continues to struggle — with homegrown racism:
"Generations of Bostonians have experienced implicit and explicit bias in all aspects of life — from interpersonal relationships to housing policy to educational opportunity. ... We have yet to come to terms fully with [these racist] experiences as a city. ... In light of this history, it will take a deeply committed and widely concerted effort to bridge divides that exist in our city in order to ensure that we grow in a way that fosters opportunity for all."
At Lawyers for Civil Rights, we are working with local officials and law enforcement to ensure the appropriate investigation and prosecution of hate crimes. We've also developed know-your-rights palm cards for people who experience or witness hate crimes.
Today, we cannot pay attention only to loud and violent racism — a car driven into a group of counter-protesters or swastikas on school desks — and close our eyes to other indignities experienced by people of color. We cannot begin or end our conversations about bigotry and prejudice with President Trump.
Racial disparities in school discipline, health care coverage and public employment may be less brutal and less newsworthy than hate crimes, but they cause real and lasting damage to people of color. Local and state policymakers must recognize the structural and historical forces underpinning racial discrimination and support solutions that expand access to opportunity and provide people of color with a seat at the table. But we must also grapple with our own personal biases, unconscious or otherwise. We must actively work to dismantle our culture of racism to stem the rising wave of hate.