As federal authorities on Monday revealed that two men had plotted to decapitate African Americans and assassinate Barack Obama, the FBI reported a disturbing trend—for the fifth straight year, hate crimes against Hispanics are on the rise.
In 2007, Hispanics were 62 percent of the victims of crimes stemming from bias toward ethnicity or national origin. Since 2003, the number of both victims of anti-Hispanic crimes and incidents has increased by 40 percent, according to the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF).
Whether the statistics reflect the extent of hate crimes is highly questionable. The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) found it difficult to believe that Mississippi reported no hate crimes for 2007. The Center also emphasized that with undocumented immigrants least likely to report hate crimes, an undercount is more the reality.
What is clear is that hate crimes against Latinos have increased with the hostile tenor of the immigration debate. MALDEF and the National Council of La Raza are educating the public about this trend. But the alert—and more importantly, a firm stand for tolerance—needs to be sounded by a range of leaders and organizations.
As we saw recently in Shenandoah, Pa., a group of white youths was charged with ethnic intimidation in the beating death of Mexican immigrant Luis Ramirez. In Staten Island, a man was charged with a hate crime after ramming his vehicle into the doors of three Mexican-operated businesses. Other attacks against Latinos—from vile speech to violence and worse—are described at Wecanstopthehate.org and http://www.splcenter.org/.
Silence in the face of this trend can be just as dangerous. We strongly urge elected and religious leaders to be visible, vocal and relentless in denouncing hate and demanding justice—before more lives are destroyed.