“After a very mean-spirited and toxic election, certain individuals have felt emboldened to verbally and physically target communities of color,” said Andrea Williams, Executive Director of Causa, an Oregon immigrants rights organization, at the November 28 City Council Meeting that censured former Councilor Daniel Benjamin for offensive online postings. “This is happening at our schools between students; we have the calls to prove it.”
The increase in hate crimes since the election has been documented by the Southern Poverty Law Center, which on November 29 listed 867 post-election reported hate incidents nationwide, including 33 in Oregon. It’s also being noted in our own community.
Gretchen Bennett, Federal Compliance Coordinator for the City of Salem’s Human Rights Commission, says “People I talk with and members of the commission are seeing an increase in incidents reported.” Bennett says the Commission generally receives two or three complaints about hate incidents per week, but that since the election, it’s been about six per week. “Even one is too many,” Bennett says, though she cautions that a few weeks may not constitute enough data to determine a trend.
The Southern Poverty Law Center identifies nine “hate groups” in Oregon. One, the National Prayer Network, blames Jews themselves for anti-Semitism, saying, “Evil Jewish political, religious and cultural leadership continues to stimulate a backlash of anti-Jewish feeling.” The network cautions members that hate crime laws are an “imminent threat to freedom,” and warns, “Hate crime laws may make you a lawbreaker! Such laws, while claiming to promote tolerance, actually lead to the end of free speech.”
The American Freedom Party, a white nationaists’ organization, also operates in Oregon. Its website contains numerous pictures of, and articles about, the president elect. Its top story on December 4, 2016 featured excerpts from an interview with Ann Coulter about Trump’s victory. Another article is titled, 7 uses for Right-Wing Death Squads in America, which a writer says, are “great for getting drug dealers off the streets – and a lot more!” Calling Trump the “law and order president,” the writer noted Trump’s unconfirmed recent praise for Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte’s use of right-wing death squads to kill drug dealers and addicts, a policy that is said to have murdered 4,500 Philipinos in the last five months. The article suggests broadening the movement in the United States to suggest death to others, including, liberal professors, “lying journalists,” “whinorities, feminists, homosexuals and vegans.” The article is followed by an “Editor’s Note” reading, “This is in no way a call for violence or murder. This is a policy position paper in the form of a listicle. [This paper] is opposed to violence, and simply supports the practical implementation of innovative policies which will lead to a great America.”
A self-described Alt-right member on the site, in the story, ‘Guide to the Alt-Right’ writes that a variety of fringe groups have come together to meet at a ‘center point’ in recent years and that, “The campaign of Donald Trump is effectively the nexus of that center point.”
Oregon also hosts the National Socialist Movement, whose website demands the union of all Whites in a “greater America,” a revocation of NATO and the World Bank, land for only white people, a blockage of non-white immigration and allowing euthanasia and abortion in cases of mental retardation – among many exclusionary ideas.
“There is a real fear” in Salem, said Levi Herrera-Lopez, Executive Director of Mano a Mano, at the November 28 city council meeting, “like I haven’t seen in 20 years.” Herrera-Lopez is Executive Director of Mano a Mano, a local organization that helps low income and immigrant residents.
“Fear” was also the word used that night by Salem’s Ty Blevins, who identifies as transgender, both “in the community and on the street,” and again in conversation with members of a non-Christian, predominantly non-white Salem congregation which has seen both cyber-bullying and verbal abuse since the election.
It was also used in Silverton when parents and students testified at the November 11 Silver Falls School Board meeting. One mother described how her 12-year old daughter was targeted by two adult men in a car with a racial slur when she was walking home from music practice, and many attending discussed the Silverton High School election day pro-Trump rally that included threatening, racist language against others – language that parent Elizabeth Nevez said “proved to be traumatic to multiple students and adults.”
Since November 8, two incidents of inappropriate actions made by City of Salem officials have come to light. One was the violent video posted by former Salem City Councilor, Daniel Benjamin on his Facebook page, and the other was cyber-bullying by a Salem Police officer of a Chicago woman who mentioned she was attending a woman’s march to protest the election. Councilor Benjamin resigned; Salem Police Chief Jerry Moore made a statement on the Police Department Facebook page stating, “We are continuing to evaluate all of the information available to us and will make a final determination,” though Police Department Information Officer Lt. Dave Okada points out that though a violation by a department member may be subject to internal discipline, results will not become public record.
There are no easy ways to overcome divisive rhetoric and bigoted attitudes, say locals, though Paul Krissel, co-chair of Salem’s Racial Justice Organizing Committee, told the council audience that a first step is to acknowledge the institutional cultural racism of society. Education is another answer, said Mish’al Almuntafki, of the Salem Islamic Center, who noted that with 1.6 billion Muslims worldwide, “it’s hard to see Muslims blamed [as Trump has done] for acts that 99.9% of them have nothing to do with, and in fact are against.”
Naseem Rakha, a Silverton High parent, told the school board audience, “The greater issue here is that we need to have a way to develop sympathy and empathy for one another. We are in a world of hurt around the nation and an election that has used very vile language.”
Rakha advised that the tools used to repair division, ignorance and hate, “need to be tangible, and strong.”