This is an excerpt from a Daily Kos column, originally published on March 16, 2020.
Many people went to sleep on Tuesday, November 8, 2016, thinking they knew who would win the presidential election. But on the morning of Wednesday, November 9, they woke up to a jolt. To almost everyone’s surprise — including Trump’s — Donald J. Trump was elected president of the United States. For ten days afterward hate crimes spiked, as did other forms of insult, threats, and disinhibition.
The day after the election 30 mosques received an identical letter warning that “President Trump will do to you what Hitler did to the Jews.” The letter, published in its entirety in the Council on American-Islamic Relations report The Empowerment of Hate, read,
“To the Children of Satan, You Muslims are a vile and filthy people. Your mothers and your fathers are dogs. You are evil. You worship the devil. But your day of reckoning has arrived. There’s a new sheriff in town – President Donald Trump. He’s going to cleanse America and make it shine again. And he’s going to start with you Muslims. He’s going to do to you Muslims what Hitler did to the Jews. You Muslims would be wise to pack your bags and get out of Dodge. This is a great time for patriotic Americans. Long Live President Trump and God Bless the USA. Americans for a Better Way.”
According to the Washington Post, reported hate crimes with a racial or ethnic bias increased the day after the election to the highest level of the year. And for ten days the level of such crimes remained higher than on Election Day itself. It was as if the election liberated people who had been holding back, giving them implicit permission to target people Trump had identified as enemies, dangerous, or as less than human.
The Los Angeles County Commission on Human Relations published its 2016 Hate Crimes Report in which it noted not only that hate crimes rose to their highest levels in the days after the election but revealed an unprecedented pattern: Hate crimes in which Trump’s name was specifically invoked. These included:
An Asian woman walking her dog was assaulted by two white men who also shouted, “Go back to Chink town, you slant eyed bitch. Take your Chink dogs with you! Trump town!”
The home of three Asian victims was ransacked, and graffiti that included swastikas, “KKK,” “White Power,” and “Trump” was written throughout the house.
A Latino family’s home was spray-painted with the word “Trump,” and a warning reading, “Mixed race breeding. Keep your spic children off our property or there will be consequences. The letter “x” in the word “mixed” was a swastika.
The report noted that,
“These reported hate crimes had a direct reference by the perpetrator(s) to Trump or the presidential election. As we have noted in our annual reports with regard to hate crimes with anti-immigrant slurs, other hate crimes could have been motivated by the election, but the perpetrators did not communicate or express it to the victims.”
In New York City alone, hate crimes increased by 11 percent between 2015 and 2016, according to the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino. From 2016 to 2017, hate crimes declined by less than two percent. In 2017 a New York Police Department spokesperson told Bloomberg about the rise hate crimes in New York City:
“Based on the timing and the extraordinary increase we’ve been seeing, not only in New York but around the nation, you have to conclude that the presidential campaign was the major factor.”
The fear in the aftermath of the election was palpable, including in New York City, with its very large population of immigrants and people of all religions, ethnicities, and sexual identities and gender expressions. New York is the third-most-diverse city in the United States. I live in the New York borough of Queens, which is the single most ethnically diverse urban area in the world. About half its residents, including me, were born outside the United States. People in Queens speak more than 138 languages. More than half, including me, speak a mother language other than English. Queens also is home to both New York City airports, LaGuardia Airport and John F. Kennedy International Airport.
In the days following the election, as anti-minority violence became more and more visible, many people in vulnerable communities sought safety from the possibility of attack. At-risk communities included Muslims, Latinos, immigrants, African Americans, and LGBTQ people. At the same time, many members of communities that were less at risk sought to show support for those communities.
In that time several celebrities began wearing safety pins on their clothing, not as a structural matter but as a symbol. They were taking a page from a post-Brexit phenomenon in Britain, where there was a 78 percent increase in violence against minorities following the 2016 vote for Britain to withdraw from the European Union.
I began wearing a safety pin prominently on both my outer coat and my suit jacket. In 2020 I still wear one on my outer coat. To my surprise, it was recognized immediately by members of at-risk communities. The safety pin seemed to signify two separate things: you don’t need to worry about me committing violence against you; and I will do what I can to help you if you are targeted by others.
As I walked through LaGuardia Airport very early one morning a few days after the election, I was greeted by members of the cleaning and maintenance staff finishing their overnight shift. They seemed to be immigrants from the Middle East and Africa. Unlike the studied silence that I normally experienced in my early morning walks through the airport, many said Thank you, or Good morning, acknowledging my pin. As I passed several women in hijabs, they smiled and nodded at me. I smiled, nodded slightly, put my right hand over my heart, and greeted them with as salaamu alaykum, peace be upon you. They responded with alaykum as salaam, and upon you be peace.
That day I had to change one of my flights, and the airport lounge agent who handed me my boarding pass noticed my safety pin. He asked whether the pin was what he assumed. I said it was. He tore my boarding pass in half and printed out another. He had upgraded me to first class. He was an apparently gay man. He handed me the new boarding pass and thanked me for standing with him and others.
In early 2019 I was riding the New York City subway. As I entered the car, I noticed a woman who entered with me. She was wearing a hijab. She sat next to another passenger, who looked at her hijab, frowned, and got up and moved across the car. I sat next to the woman in the hijab. She saw my safety pin, nodded, and mouthed, Thank you.
By June, 2019, crime overall in New York City continued to decline, but hate crimes were up 64 percent compared with that time one year prior. In the summer of 2019 New York City formally launched an Office of Hate Crime to coordinate city agencies’ responses to hate crimes.