Hate Crimes Against Arab Americans Are Grossly Under-Reported

 Hate Crimes Against Arab Americans Are Grossly Under-Reported

By Fatmeh Atieh

Since the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks — which killed more than 3,000 people — Arab Americans have seen enormous spikes in hate crimes against the community, but the majority have gone unreported.

In 2021, for example, the FBI annual Uniform Crime Reports noted just 96 anti-Islamic hate crimes, and 75 anti-Arab crimes. In 2017, the year President Donald Trump took office, hate crimes against the community dramatically spiked, but only 277 anti-Islamic attacks were recorded by the FBI, along with 104 anti-Arab attacks. Data for other years can be viewed here: https://cde.ucr.cjis.gov/LATEST/webapp/#/pages/explorer/crime/hate-crime

Rehab Abu El-Elaa, who resides in St. Clarita, California, talked about the incidents that she was exposed to after she came to live in Los Angeles after she got married and came to live with her husband. “I used to live in Sherman Oaks. Two months after my arrival, while my husband was at work, I decided to leave the house for a walk and get to know the neighborhood. While trying to pass the green light that allows pedestrians to pass, a woman tried to cross the red light. I was wearing a veil. She then started screaming and cursing and saying ‘go back to your country.’”

In the second incident, Abu El-Elaa was verbally abused while at Ralph’s Supermarket. A woman asked her why she had left her country and told her to return to it.

“I was also subjected to several harassment and incidents after I lived in Santa Clarita, even after I changed wearing the hijab, the head cover, to a cap or headband to avoid these incidents and attacks, but I did not escape these attacks and insults,” she said. “After that I completely decided to take off the veil. This was not easy for me because I had been wearing it all my life.”

Abu El-Elaa said she did not report the incidents. “In the beginning it was fear Fear that I am still new to this country and do not know the laws. The other reason is that I still do not have a permanent card, and this was one of the most important things that I was afraid of, and to avoid problems. We, as Arabs, are by nature peaceful and do not like problems.”

“But after the victory of President Trump and his racist rhetoric against minorities, especially Muslims, these pressures increased on us, so I decided to respond and be strong and not allow anyone to attack me after that,” she told Al Enteshar.

Dr. Sayed Jumaa, a professor of Islamic Studies who is also an imam, said he is surprised there are not more reports of hate crimes, given how easily the Arab American community can be identified.

“There are those who easily identify themselves as Arabs or Muslims, including veiled women, he told this publication. Those who wear turbans are exposed to extremely high levels of hate, though they are not Arabs or Muslims, he noted. Arab American children are often the targets of bullying at school: parents may submit a complaint to school administrators, but often see no results.

Bias attacks on property are often directed at properties that could easily be identified as belonging to Muslims or Arabs, such as mosques.  “We always guide people and urge them to inform law enforcement authorities in any cases of assault on them, but sometimes they prefer not to file a complaint for private reasons,” said Jumaa.

Al Enteshar interviewed Amr Shabaik, Civil Rights Managing Attorney for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, California Greater Los Angeles Area Office; and Mike Abdeen, a former Sergeant at the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, who is now the head of the Abdeen Consulting Group on hate crimes and discrimination against Arabs and Muslims. Both experts concurred that Arab Americans are reluctant to report hate crimes to law enforcement. Moreover, law enforcement agencies currently provide data on hate crimes to the FBI on a voluntary basis only, despite efforts by community advocates to make reporting mandatory.

Shabaik said: “The Bureau of Justice Statistics estimates 56% of hate crimes are not reported. There are several reasons for low reported numbers of hate crimes/hate incidents amongst the AMEMSA (Arab, Middle Eastern, Muslim, and South Asian) community.”

“First, there is a reasonable mistrust of law enforcement by many in the AMEMSA community because of the long history of the indiscriminate surveillance and spying on the AMEMSA community by law enforcement, both federal and local. These individuals may have reasonable doubt that their concerns will be responded to effectively in addition to being wary of ulterior motives law enforcement may have in using victims as potential informants and sources of information on their own community. Many in the community may not feel safe reporting hate crimes to law enforcement.” 

Some of the discriminatory surveillance law enforcement has engaged in includes:

 In the aftermath of 9/11, the Government indiscriminately detained over a thousand Muslims, both citizens and non-citizens. Thousands more were questioned. https://www.hrw.org/reports/2002/us911/USA0802.pdf
 Since 9/11, the Government has modified its own security policies in dramatic ways to make it easier to target American Muslims simply based on their protected characteristics like their religion, national origin, or ancestry.
 The FBI has engaged in widespread investigations and surveillance of the Muslim community. These indiscriminate investigations are frequently conducted without a suspicion of criminal activity or facts indicating wrongdoing. These investigations take different forms, including detentions, interrogations, broad efforts to “count” mosques and Muslims in each jurisdiction, and surveillance of communities throughout the country.
 In Southern California, the FBI underwent a surveillance operation named “Operation Flex” which surveilled thousands of Muslims across Southern California. Between 2001 and 2006, the FBI gathered lists of mosques in the area, collected names of local Muslim leaders in Southern California, amassed membership lists of religious organizations, collected flyers of fundraising and political events hosted by community organizations, interrogated hundreds of people in the area, planted bugs and cameras to monitor Muslims, and deployed other forms of electronic surveillance.
 The FBI also trained an informant named Craig Monteilh to pretend to convert to Islam and infiltrate and spy on Muslims in Southern California only because they are Muslim. https://www.aclu.org/news/national-security/how-the-fbi-spied-on-orange-county-muslims-and-attempted-to-get-away-with-it
 In New York, after 9/11, the NYPD engaged in widespread surveillance of the Muslim community including “mapping” mosques and other community centers and targeting them for infiltration and surveillance.

Second, said Shabaik, when local law enforcement does respond to reports of hate crimes they may not properly document the evidence that would lead to the crime being prosecuted as a hate crime.

“For example, we have received reports from individuals who have reported being victimized by hate and the police report not properly documenting the hateful words being stated by the perpetrator. For example, an individual reported being physically attacked and while being attacked the perpetrator yelled Islamophobic statements at the victim. The statements were not properly documented by the police.”

“Third, the FBI is the national agency that collects hate crime data and which many people view as the authoritative source for statistics on hate crimes. However, in addition to the internal reporting issues apparent with local law enforcement, local law enforcement agencies are also not required to report hate crimes to the FBI. Reporting is done voluntarily by local law enforcement agencies. The voluntary nature of reporting leads to severely under-reported hate crime statistics,” he said.

The FBI’s 2020 data on hate crimes showed that about 88% of cities across the country did not report hate crime data. More than 12,000 law enforcement agencies reported zero hate crimes.  https://www.cair.com/press_releases/cair-renews-call-for-federal-funding-of-state-local-law-enforcement-to-be-contingent-on-hate-crime-reporting/ And 60 police departments in cities with populations over 100,000 affirmatively reported zero hate crimes.

Most recently, the FBI data on hate crimes for 2021 was collected using the Incident-Based Reporting System (NIBRS), the national standard for law enforcement crime data reporting in the United States – an important step towards making hate crimes data more accurate and comprehensive. However, even with this important step, reporting by local law enforcement to the FBI is still not required and many local law enforcement agencies were unable or unwilling to report using this new system. https://www.splcenter.org/news/2022/12/13/2021-fbi-hate-crime-data-incomplete For the 2021 reporting numbers, there are 3,300 fewer participating agencies than in 2020, including agencies in major cities such as New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Phoenix. https://www.splcenter.org/news/2022/12/13/2021-fbi-hate-crime-data-incomplete

CAIR has called on the Federal Government to make all aid, grants, training, or other assistance to state and local law enforcement agencies contingent on their reporting and compiling of hate crime data.  https://www.cair.com/press_releases/cair-welcomes-doj-initiatives-to-address-growing-hate-incidents-urges-government-to-tie-police-funding-to-reporting-on-hate-crimes/

Abdeen said he did not have numbers on the undercount. But, he added: “Muslims and Arabs are always reluctant to report incidents of discrimination and hatred that they are exposed to, so the numbers are inaccurate.”

“They fear that their community will accuse them of dealing with the FBI. The culture of Arabs and Muslims is that they are peaceful communities that do not like problems and do not want to deal with the competent security authorities and do not want their name to be associated with these authorities,” said Abdeen, adding: “In my opinion, this is a mistake committed by the Arab community and the Muslim community. They must communicate with the security authorities and report any incident.”

“Federal and state governments cannot provide adequate resources, local law enforcement agencies cannot provide safety protections, and local attorney general’s offices cannot take action if they do not see that community members are not speaking up and reporting incidents of racism and hate.”

Police rarely consider the immigration status of a victim, so even those who are undocumented should report bias attacks, said the detective.

There is often difficulty in identifying a case as a hate crime or incident, said Abdeen. Insults, screaming, or non-physical assault is within the scope of freedom of expression of opinion, even though it may look like a racist crime. There must be proof that this person has premeditated assault for committing a crime fueled by racial bias, he said.

The FBI will seldom get involved with smaller incidents, such as women who are subjected to verbal abuse for wearing headscarves. Smaller incidents can be investigated by local police. The FBI will get involved in larger crimes such as the vandalism of a mosque, said Abdeen.-

“I encourage the members of the Arab community and the Muslim community, whether individuals or groups always to speak up and to report, whether at work or outside work, because there are always laws at work that protect employees from racism and persecution if they are exposed to it or outside work. If you get hurt if you report any accident, contact for information,” he said, noting there are many organizations offering legal help to the community.

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