The bubble breach: Hate in Ann Arbor and Ypsi

Students and community members march across Eastern Michigan University’s campus in solidarity after hate speech graffiti was found at King and Wise halls. ADAM KARR | THE EASTERN ECHO

By Sumayah Basal
Contributor

Nationwide, hate is steadily becoming more common in our everyday lives. Hate is expressed on social media, in graffiti, politics and everyday conversation. The number of hate crimes counted by the FBI increased in 2016 and 2015.

The increased willingness to express hate has affected the Ann Arbor-Ypsilanti area, despite community pride in openness and acceptance.

The region is a “bubble within a bubble,” says Rindy Root, a local high school teacher. A diverse population and higher levels of education create the phenomenon, says Root, who teaches U.S. history, civics and government.

But the bubbles have been penetrated by hate.

Numerous instances of hate speech and hate groups are occurring right here in Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti.

Two of the 28 organizations identified as hate groups by the Southern Poverty Law Center exist in Ann Arbor.

White supremacist Richard B. Spencer hopes to speak on the University of Michigan campus.

Racially charged graffiti and flyers have been found in Ypsilanti and Ann Arbor. Those incidents include swastikas and spray-painted messages “kill Jews” and “free USA” at the Ann Arbor Skatepark; “free Dylan Roof, I hate n—-r’s” painted over the murals in downtown Ann Arbor; and the defacement of the iconic “rock” in the city’s George Washington Park with anti-Latinx graffiti.

The post-presidential election era seems to be the time for a more explicit hate speech.

Hatred is no longer simply an undercurrent. No longer it remains unexpressed, the social obligations that once shamed people out of such blatant expression have fallen away.

Hate is encompassing us from all sides, and so inevitably it begins to seep through our bubble. The most harmful breach of hate comes from politicians.

When authority figures use such speech, it grants everyday people permission to do so, too. Politicians play the role in allowing hate in civilians says Root. They “set the standard.” When politicians are racist, homophobic, Islamophobic, xenophobic, sexist, etc., they make it OK. One can assume President Donald Trump plays a big role in this rise of hate.

Many Michigan residents facing financial uncertainty found hope in Trump’s campaign message.

“Trump made promises of improvement and gave them someone to blame,” says Root. “And in these promises hate speech was trickled.” Through his promises Trump imbued a hatred and anger toward minorities, creating an environment that welcomed and justified such hatred.

FBI hate crime statistics for 2016, released just last month, show 6,121 cases of crimes motivated by bias. That’s an increase of 4.6 percent from 2015, a year when the numbers went up almost 7 percent. Here in Michigan, the 2016 Hate Crime Report issued by the State Police showed a 24 percent increase in the number of reported hate crimes to 494 incidents that included 583 offenses.

While vandalism, assault and other actions are crimes, speech is protected.

It’s true that the First Amendment protects even vile speech from government-imposed limits. But it does not protect those who spew it from all repercussions such an act may bring, or the public’s right to express its disapproval.

As we exist in a world of injustice, remember that each of us has the capacity to prevent the furthering of hate. When you see injustice, fight against it. When you see hate, combat it. Remove the grounds from which people of hate stand. Senseless hate has no place in our country. Let us become the “United” States for once and all.

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