News World Hate crimes spiking in Donald Trump’s America, minority groups say

Hate crimes spiking in Donald Trump’s America, minority groups say

Damaged tombstones at Philadelphia's Mount Carmel Jewish cemetery
Desecrated tombstones at Philadelphia's Mount Carmel Jewish cemetery. Photo: ABC
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Shootings, bombings, desecrated cemeteries and racist graffiti – minority groups in the United States say the number of race hate crimes are spiking in President Donald Trump’s America.

“I hope it’s not a tipping point but I will say that I’m 36 years old and I grew up in an amazing America, and I still want it to be amazing, open America for my children who are growing up here,” Philadelphia rabbi Joel Seltzer said.

“For the first time in my life I do have fear and I do have concern and that is not a great feeling in these times.”

Rabbi Seltzer is one of dozens of volunteers who have braved near-freezing temperatures to clean up more than 100 tombstones at the Mount Carmel Jewish Cemetery that were damaged in a recent night-time hate attack.

They have come from all over the east coast, disturbed by reports from independent monitors that hate crimes are rising in the US.

Rabbi Seltzer said the desecration of the dead sent a clear message to the living.

“Well it says not only do we hate you potentially for who you are, for your beliefs, but we even hate your loved ones,” he said.

“We even hate those who have died before you. Or we know that by harming them we’ll be harming you.”

Some victims blame Donald Trump’s rhetoric

As the ABC’s 7.30 filmed amid the broken tombstones we met Allen Hornblum.

He found that graves of grandparents on both his mother’s and father’s sides had been attacked.

“It’s like a twister going through one of those mid-west Missouri towns,” he said.

“Dozens and dozens of stones were knocked over and though this has happened before over the decades, this is by far the worst damage I’ve ever seen.”

Rabbi Joel Seltzer (c) and Allen Hornblum (r)
Rabbi Joel Seltzer (c) and Allen Hornblum (r) greet a volunteer helping with the clean-up. Photo: ABC

Mr Hornblum blames President Trump’s tough rhetoric on immigration and mooted Muslim ban as empowering groups who previously hid in the shadows.

“I think some of this can be tied to the national political scene and some of the statements by Donald Trump,” he said.

“He’s been endorsed by some very reactionary groups which fires up some people with bad intentions to do bad things.”

According to the Anti-Defamation League, there have been more than 160 bomb threats received by Jewish organisations in the US in the last three months.

The motivations behind these attacks can be murky. At the beginning of March an African-American man jilted by a relationship break-up was charged with bomb threats to Jewish community centres.

President Trump sends mixed signals

The cemetery attacks spurred a rally against hate, with more than 1000 people turning up to hear a joint message from religious leaders and politicians.

But while Mr Trump used his address to a joint sitting of congress to condemn the attacks, many believe his response has been muted.

Pennsylvania Attorney-General Josh Shapiro was asked by 7.30 about a meeting he had in the White House.

Anti-hate protesters at a rally in Philadelphia
Anti-hate protesters at a rally in Philadelphia. Photo: ABC

“I raised the issue to the President, I specifically talked about the threats and the intimidation here in Pennsylvania and I asked him specifically what the state and federal government could do,” Mr Shapiro said.

“The President responded by initially calling these types of threats and intimidation reprehensible.”

What he went on to say left Mr Shapiro confused.

“But then the President made a comment about how the reverse could be true,” he said.

“I don’t know what the President meant by that but here’s what I do know – that leaders, especially the President of the United States – need to speak with moral clarity on these issues.”

Unity amid the attacks

Tarek El-Messidi and Rabbi Lynda Targen
Rabbi Lynda Targen thanks Tarek El-Messidi for raising money to help restore the cemetery. Photo: ABC

When local Muslim activist Tarek El-Messidi heard about the attacks he immediately empathised.

“We’ve had places of worship, mosques and synagogues threatened, vandalised, burnt to the ground,” he said.

“Four mosques within the last six weeks.

“So, I think a lot of the rhetoric during the campaign has come around full circle now, and these people feel empowered.

“There’s almost like an ecosystem of hate flourishing right now and it’s very unfortunate.”

Mr El-Messidi started a Go Fund Me page, that has exceeded everyone’s expectations.

“Our goal was $20,000 on the fundraising page and we hit that goal in just three hours,” he said.

“It was supposed to be a one-month campaign.

“On the first day JK Rowling tweeted about it, on the second day Ellen De Generes tweeted about it, so it really went viral among the Muslim community [and] non-Muslim community.

“Right now, after a week, we’re at over $150,000 raised.”