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Crime

Libraries Report Surges in Hate Crimes and Xenophobic Vandalism

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Hate crimes and anti-Muslim or anti-Semitic vandalism have surged in libraries lately. Authorities say that they have rarely seen anything like this–vandalism specifically targeting libraries, employees, and books. At a public library in Evanston, Illinois, a librarian discovered that someone had written “bullsh*t hatred cover to cover” inside the cover of a copy of the book “The Koran for Dummies.” They had also drawn a swastika and written a derogatory comment about the Prophet Muhammed.

It turned out that at least six more books were vandalized in a similar way. But it would be very difficult to figure out who did it—any damage done while the books were out on loan would have been discovered and reported on their return, but as that didn’t happen, someone must have vandalized them while in the library. Though the library does have some security cameras, they don’t cover the whole place and nothing suspicious was found on the footage.

According to the American Library Association, there has been an increase in harassment and vandalism at libraries over the past month. At the University of New Mexico, a man approached a young woman who was studying in the library and tried to pull off her hijab. And administrators also found swastikas and anti-Semitic graffiti on the walls of Reed College in Portland.

These crimes are unusual for libraries–they’re supposed to be peaceful places for education and discussion. The ALA is now starting to keep track of every xenophobic incident that is reported. “We hope to track the details, locations and frequency, the better to stay on top of it, develop training or webinars, and support our members,” said James LaRue from the ALA.

This uptick coincides with the 2016 election, which was divisive to say the least. According to several hate crime monitors, verbal and physical abuse aimed at minorities in schools, mosques, and other public places have increased dramatically since the election. A November report from the FBI supports that narrative, showing 5,818 documented hate crimes in 2015. That was a rise of 6 percent compared to the year before, and included assaults, bombings, threats, and property destruction against minorities, women, LGBT individuals, and others. (It’s important to note as well that hate crimes are notoriously underreported.)

The largest increase was in the rise of hate crimes against American Muslims. There were 257 reported cases of assault, or attacks on mosques in 2015, which marks a rise of 67 percent from 2014. That is a high that hasn’t been seen since the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks. “We need to do a better job of tracking and reporting hate crime to fully understand what is happening in our communities and how to stop it,” said FBI director James Comey to the New York Times.

But some supporters of Donald Trump say that they have also been victimized, claiming that they also need a “safe space” where they can express their opinions. Maybe the best solution would be for the opposing sides to communicate more openly, to try to understand each other’s point of view.

Emma Von Zeipel
Emma Von Zeipel is a staff writer at Law Street Media. She is originally from one of the islands of Stockholm, Sweden. After working for Democratic Voice of Burma in Thailand, she ended up in New York City. She has a BA in journalism from Stockholm University and is passionate about human rights, good books, horses, and European chocolate. Contact Emma at EVonZeipel@LawStreetMedia.com.

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