The Department of Justice and the FBI are investigating whether a spate of reports of harassment, intimidation, and violence across the US since last week's election constitute hate crimes under federal law, Attorney General Loretta Lynch said in a videotaped statement Friday.
The FBI days ago released its 2015 hate-crime statistics, which documented a 6% increase nationwide since the previous year, driven largely by attacks against Muslim-Americans.
"These numbers should be deeply sobering for all Americans," Lynch said, urging Americans to continue reporting incidents to local police officers and the DOJ.
Many of the recent incidents involve allegations of vandalism and intimidation — particularly in schools and university campuses.
The campus police department at San Diego State University is investigating a recent incident involving a Muslim student as a hate crime. The student reported being robbed of her purse, backpack, and keys by two men making comments about President-elect Donald Trump and Muslims, according to the university's president, Elliot Hirshman. When she tried to return to her car after contacting the police, she reportedly found her car missing.
"Comments made to the student indicate she was targeted because of her Muslim faith, including her wearing of a traditional garment and hijab," Hirshman said in a statement.
On the other side of the country, graffiti was spray-painted on a Durham, North Carolina, wall reading, "Black lives don't matter and neither does your votes," according to local media reports.
Graffiti was also spray-painted in a bathroom of a Minnesota high school, reading "#Go back to Africa," "Whites only," "White America," and "Trump," CNN reported.
The president of Canisius College in New York, John Hurley, reported that students had posted photos online of a black doll hanging from a dormitory curtain rod, along with a meme about "Trump fans."
The campus police department investigated, and several students have been suspended and will potentially be expelled, Hurley told CNN.
In the five days after last Tuesday's election, the Southern Poverty Law Center counted more than 400 reports of hateful intimidation and harassment across the US, collected from media reports, social-media posts, and direct submissions to the center's website. The SPLC acknowledged, however, that not all of those reports were verified, saying it tried to confirm reports "with a majority of user submissions."
Trump was accused throughout his presidential campaign of inflaming racial tensions with his comments and policy proposals. He last year proposed a ban on Muslims entering the US, and though he has backed away from advocating a total ban, he also called in December for a database on which Muslims would be required to register.
Trump has denounced the incidents against minorities and marginalized groups.
"If it helps, I will say this, and I will say right to the cameras: Stop it," he said in an interview with CBS' "60 Minutes" that aired Sunday.
Hate-crime laws impose harsher penalties on criminals who target people based on their race, religion, ethnicity, gender, or sexual orientation. To prove that a hate crime took place, prosecutors must show that a defendant committed a criminal act because of the victim's identity.
Lynch isn't the only official to take preventive steps against hate crimes in recent days. Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York on Tuesday set up a toll-free hotline for people across the state to report incidents involving discrimination.
New York City, in particular, has seen a sharp increase in reported hate crimes — up 31% since last year, according to newly released statistics from the New York Police Department.
"There has been an explosion recently in the number of hate crime incidents," Cuomo told media.
"They were very, very troubling and we want to make a very clear statement in this state: That there is no place for racism, there is no place for hate, there is no place for swastikas, there is no place for racially inflammatory and divisive rhetoric or acts. This is New York. This is America."
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