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Hate-fueled violence: Documenting Hate’s catalogue of incidents captures the seeming ordinariness of many of them

Joe Sexton, ProPublica | 8/3/2017, 6 a.m.

July 19 was something of a busy news day. There was word North Korea was making preparations for yet another provocative missile test. The Supreme Court, in its latest ruling in the controversial travel ban case, said that people from the six largely Muslim countries covered by the immigration enforcement action could enter the U.S. if they had a grandparent here, refusing to overturn a ruling that grandparents qualified as “bona fide relatives.” And then, late in the day, President Donald Trump gave a remarkable interview to The New York Times, one that, among other things, laid into Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

The day also produced its share of what, sadly, has come to qualify as routine news: A Muslim organization in Sacramento, California, received a package in the mail that included a Koran in a tub of lard; police in Boise, Idaho, identified a teenage boy as the person likely responsible for scratching racist words on a car; in Lansing, Michigan, police launched a search for a suspect in the case of an assault against a Hispanic man. The victim had been found with a note indicating his attacker had been motivated by racial animus.

The specter of hate incidents and crimes — some of them fueled by the nastiness of the 2016 presidential campaign — felt white hot months ago. The issue remained high-profile as several horrific murders — a South Asian immigrant slain in Kansas City, a homeless black man butchered near Times Square in New York — generated outrage and national news coverage.

Documenting Hate, an effort by a coalition of news organizations, has sought to sustain a focus on incidents and crimes of racial or religious or sexual prejudice even as the temperature around the issue rises or falls. One of the truths the effort has laid bare is that such crimes are so commonplace that they can seem an almost ordinary part of the fabric of life in America.

Scattered among the news items on that single July day — captured in local write-ups and wire-service briefs — was the attempted murder of a black employee at an auto parts store in Desert Hot Springs, California, an attack during which the shooter repeated racial epithets; the menacing of a mosque in Georgia, where repeated telephone threats warned that “white people are going to kill you”; an Indian-American Ph.D. candidate in California had her car’s windshield shattered by a rock as she drove to work, glass from the window embedding in her skin and hair. “Go back to your own country,” the assailant had screamed.

“I was shocked,” Simranjit Grewal told the India West newspaper. “Another human being was trying to attack me, to hurt me.”

Earlier this year, ProPublica reported on studies done in Great Britain on hate crimes in the aftermath of the Brexit vote. Immigrants in the country faced violence, having been demonized as a threat during the polarizing and ultimately successful effort to withdraw from the European Union. One of the researchers’ findings was that the hate incidents very often did not involve fringe, ultra-nationalist and neo-Nazi groups. Instead, they were perpetrated by, as one researcher put it, “ordinary people.”