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Crime & Justiceby Louis Krauss and Fern Shen1:51 pmAug 18, 20170

A project for troubling times: Documenting Hate

Baltimore Brew has partnered with ProPublica to collect reports of hate crimes and bias incidents

Above: Participants in the Neo Nazi, Alt-Right and White Supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va. on Aug. 11. (Getty Images)

If the world needed a wake-up call to the fact that racism, anti-Semitism and other kinds of hate are alive and well in America, the horrific scenes from Charlottesville – white supremacists waving Confederate flags and swastikas, shouting “Jews will not replace us – certainly provided it.

But reports of a rise in hate crimes date back to well before that incident last weekend – and spiked dramatically in the days following the divisive November U.S. presidential election.

Yet there currently are no reliable, comprehensive statistics on the phenomenon. The FBI says the number of hate crimes hovers around 5,000 each year. Meanwhile surveys by the Bureau of Justice Statistics estimate the annual number in recent years has been nearly 260,000.

To help get better numbers, identify trends and shine a light on hate in our area and beyond, Baltimore Brew has partnered with the non-profit news organization ProPublica in a project they created called Documenting Hate.

More than 100 newsrooms, among them the Boston GlobeBuzzFeed News, Huffington Post, the New York Times Opinion Section and The Root, have joined since the project began in January.

How it Works

We are collecting this data on hate crimes and bias incidents through forms like the one now posted on The Brew.

Have you or others been threatened or attacked for your race, ethnicity, gender, religion, trans status, disability, or sexual orientation?

Using the online form, you can describe what happened to you or what you witnessed, include photos or links and provide your name and contact information so a reporter can follow up.

We will not publish your name or information without permission.

We are not law enforcement or a government agency. If you believe you are in trouble, contact the proper authorities.

How the Information Helps

The reports to Documenting Hate get used in basically two ways. They are forwarded to participating local news organizations whose staffers may verify and report about what happened.

The New Orleans Times-Picayune, for example, received a report from a woman who said a co-worker handed her a drawing of a person hanging from a tree and said “This is you.” Local police dismissed it as “a silly drawing,” according to the newspaper’s story.

Journalists have also used the data to identify broad trends.

BuzzFeed News, for instance, confirmed 81 incidents where white students across the country used the president’s words and slogans to bully Latino, Middle Eastern, black, Asian, and Jewish classmates in the first school year of the Trump presidency.

Go HERE to report a hate crime to Documenting Hate via the Brew.

With the project’s focus on ensuring reliable statistics, Documenting Hate organizers are careful to acknowledge the limitations of their own database. They note that not all reports are verified and that a certain percentage, as with any crowd-sourced project, will be trolls or spam.

That’s where they rely on news organizations to trust but verify, and to supplement the data with other information or sources as they explore various angles of the issue.

In addition to the Documenting Hate data, for instance, project partner Univision noted a survey of teachers by the Teaching Tolerance Project at the Southern Poverty Law Center that found an increase in slurs and derogatory language, along with incidents involving swastikas, Nazi salutes and Confederate flags.

“Teachers are reporting an uptick of anti-Semitism, anti-Muslim, and anti-immigrant activity,” project director Maureen Costello said, in the Univision piece. “Schools are trying to respond.”

Signs of Bigotry and Intolerance

The deadly Charlottesville incident may have grabbed the country’s attention, but hate has flared lately in the Baltimore area in incidents large and small.

In March, a white supremacist living in Hampden drove to New York City where he fatally stabbed an African-American man. In October and then on Election Day in November, vandals destroyed  a Lutherville church’s Black Lives Matter sign and have repeatedly destroyed the duplicate signs the congregation has put up, as recently as this past Sunday.

In the coming weeks, we’ll report on incidents we verify in and around Baltimore, take a look at what data is available from other sources and talk with law enforcement, schools and organizations representing people who may be victims of hate crimes.

Other organizations locally have begun paying attention to the issue. The Maryland Attorney General’s Office, for example, established a hate crime hotline last November and has received 90 calls so far, according to communications director Christine Tobar.

A Black Lives Matter sign vandalized on Election Day 2016 at the Towson Unitarian Universalist Church just outside Baltimore. (Stephen F. Brown-Pearn)

A Black Lives Matter sign vandalized on Election Day 2016 at the Towson Unitarian Universalist Church just outside Baltimore. (Stephen F. Brown-Pearn)

But local activists agree that meaningful data is hard to come by because of the disparity in how jurisdictions define and handle hate crimes and the likelihood of under-reporting.

“We’re struggling to get an accurate picture of the frequency of these incidents,” said Zainab Chaudry, the Maryland outreach manager for the Committee on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR). “Often they’re not reported or given the scrutiny they warrant. There’s sometimes a fear of backlash or reluctance to bring attention to oneself or concern for the victims or families involved.”

She noted that CAIR, which tracks anti-Muslim hate crimes nationally, found in the first half of 2017 a 91% increase over the same period last year.

But responding to reported hate acts – such as the Syrian family in Dundalk who found a note on their door saying “Terrorist, leave no one wants you here . . . take that s*** off your head” – Chaudry experiences the ugly phenomenon personally.

“There’s definitely a need to work to raise awareness about the rising tide of bigotry and intolerance in our midst,” she said.

“It’s not only the Muslim community that’s being impacted,” she added. “We’re seeing spikes of hate incidents impacting many other groups like African-Americans, Jewish Americans, Latinos, LGBT and Refugees.”


To contact us directly about this project, email us at documentinghatebaltimore@baltimorebrew.com .

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