(New York, November 14, 2002)
Public officials tried vigorously to contain a wave of hate crimes in the United States after September 11, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. Nevertheless, anti-Muslim hate crimes in the United States rose 1700 percent during 2001. The report documents anti-Arab and anti-Muslim violence and the local, state and federal response to it.
The forty-one page report, “We Are Not the Enemy,” draws on research with police, prosecutors, community activists, and victims of hate crimes in six cities (Seattle, Washington; Dearborn, Michigan; Chicago, Illinois; Los Angeles, California; Phoenix, Arizona; and New York, New York) to review steps taken by government officials to prevent and prosecute hate crimes after the September 11 attacks in New York and Washington, D.C. The report also examines the scope and extent of these hate crimes, which included murder, assault, arson, and vandalism.
“Government officials didn’t sit on their hands while Muslims and Arabs were attacked after September 11, but law enforcement and other government agencies should have been better prepared for this kind of onslaught.”
Hate Crimes Researcher in the U.S. Program of Human Rights Watch
“Government officials didn’t sit on their hands while Muslims and Arabs were attacked after September 11,” said Amardeep Singh, author of the report and U.S. Program researcher at Human Rights Watch. “But law enforcement and other government agencies should have been better prepared for this kind of onslaught.”
After September 11, prominent officials at all levels of government, beginning with President George W. Bush, condemned “backlash” violence. In the report, Human Rights Watch documents the actions that accompanied the public commitment to protect vulnerable groups. The key practices reviewed are backlash planning, police deployment, bias crime tracking, prosecution and outreach to Arab and Muslim communities.
Violence increased dramatically against Arabs and Muslims after September 11. The federal government reported a seventeen-fold increase in anti-Muslim hate crimes, from twenty-eight in 2000 to 481 in 2001. Muslim and Arab organizations received over 2,000 reports of harassment, violence and other acts of September 11-related bias. Chicago and Los Angeles County both experienced a fifteen-fold increase in anti-Arab hate crimes during 2001.
Backlash violence against Arabs and Muslims in the United States is not unprecedented. As chronicled in the report, war in the Middle East or terrorism against the United States associated with Arabs or Muslims has triggered domestic spasms of bias violence many times in the past. Given the predictability of anti-Arab and anti-Muslim violence, Human Rights Watch argues that law enforcement and government officials should have been better prepared to combat it.
The report lauds official condemnation of hate crimes after September 11 as an important aspect of a public strategy to reduce bias violence. However, the U.S. government contradicted its anti-prejudice message by directing its anti-terrorism efforts — including secret immigration detention and F.B.I. interviews of thousands of non-citizens — at Arabs and Muslims.
“Since September 11, a pall of suspicion has been cast over Arabs and Muslims in the United States,” said Singh. “Public officials can help reduce bias violence against them by ensuring that the ‘war against terrorism’ is focused on criminal behavior rather than whole communities.”