A National Crisis: Surging Hate Crimes and White Supremacists

Charlene Crowell
By Charlene Crowell –

A Saturday morning shooting rampage in El Paso, Texas on August 3 took the lives of 22 people and seriously injured more than two dozen others.

Reportedly, the alleged shooter wanted to kill as many Mexicans as he could. Armed with safety glasses, ear coverings, and an assault-style rifle, the shooter entered a Walmart store during a back-to-school sale.

“Saturday’s attack on El Paso was an attack on the Mexican heritage of millions of Americans—and also part of a history of white supremacist and nativist acts in Texas across three centuries,” wrote Hector Tobar in an August 7 New York Times op-ed. Tobar is an associate professor at the University of California at Irvine.

During the evening of that same day, August 3, and nearly 1,600 miles away in the Oregon district of Dayton, Ohio, another gunman’s attack left nine people dead and 27 injured. Like the Texas shooter, Ohio’s shooter was heavily armed, but he was shot by police before he could enter a nightclub where he could have killed far more. The victims of this shooting reflected the city’s diversity and included blacks, Latinos, and whites—including his own sister.

How, in a span of only 24 hours, could two cities in different states and regions suffer mass shootings—one in a city only a few miles from the nation’s southern border, and the other in a former Midwestern manufacturing hub?

Despite the shock of two unprovoked attacks, family and community members in both cities must somehow cope through their grief while preparing funeral arrangements. These two communities are also challenging governmental officials at both the state and federal levels to take action to prevent further fatalities.

Nationally, a profusion of prayers and condolences from the nation signaled that a tragic moment may yet be transformed into a groundswell movement that reckons with the American conscience. The profusion of assault weapons combined with easy access is a gripping issue that confronts us all.

In response to these and other tragedies, a rainbow coalition of leaders held a noon rally on August 6 in the nation’s capital. In a joint statement, the Leadership Conference for Civil and Human Rights was joined by key partners including but not limited to the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, Voto Latino, the Center for Community Self-Help, and the Center for Responsible Lending.

“None of this is acceptable,” said the leaders in a written statement. “None of this is normal. Our organizations are united in saying that members of Congress can no longer look away as communities of color are murdered with impunity. We must all unite and demand accountability.”

The NAACP is additionally calling for the passage of the bipartisan Background Checks Act of 2019. Passed on a bipartisan House vote of 240–190 on February 27, the bill has yet to be taken up by the Senate. The bill would address both background check requirements for firearms and firearm transfers between private individuals.

Beyond congressional actions, however, other spheres of influence can also take an active role in curbing violence. For example, corporate leaders could publicly condemn efforts to demonize immigrants, minorities, or other groups targeted for hate crimes and violence. In pulpits across the country, pastors should preach about the moral dilemma the nation faces and call upon congregants to live their faith every day. Community-based organizations can call upon state and local officials to also speak out against senseless acts of violence and white supremacists.

Now is also a time to remember that regardless of race or ethnicity, our history chronicles the range of hate crimes that have taken the lives of Latinos as well as Native Americans, African Americans, Jews, and the LGBTQ community. The terror now facing America’s Latinos resurrects these horrors, particularly evoking how blacks encountered racial hatred for more than a century during Jim Crow era and later during the civil rights struggles of the 1950s and 1960s.

Too many times in recent years, our unique black American experience shows how we remain at risk as a people. In 1998 the body of James Byrd, a 49-year old black resident of Jasper, Texas, was roped to the back of a pick-up truck driven by two white men and ripped to pieces as it was dragged over a mile and a half along public roads. Other and more recent heinous hate crimes remind us of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, and Tamir Rice—just to name a few.

According to a study from Rutgers University, black men today are 2.5 times more likely than white men to be victims of violence. From 2013 to 2017, black men died in 11,456 encounters with police and members of the public.

At the same time, the emergence of hate groups has been on the rise, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC).

“The total number of hate groups rose to 1,020 in 2018, up about 7% from 2017,” wrote Heidi Beirich, who leads SPLC’s Intelligence Project and its award-winning publication, The Intelligence Report.

Its report released this February found that white nationalist groups grew from 100 in 2017 to 148 the following year, 2018—a 50% growth. Other hate groups—anti-Semitic, anti-LGBTQ, and anti-Muslim—also grew during these same years from 233 to 264. While the Ku Klux Klan dominated hate groups in the Jim Crow and civil rights eras, its presence across the country now appears to have been eclipsed by the growth of neo-Nazi, white nationalist, and skinhead organizations.

SPLC’s Hate Map by State shows that the largest number of statewide hate groups are in California (83), Florida (75), and Texas (73). Additional hate organizations currently operate in Dallas, Los Angeles, San Diego, and Tallahassee. Beyond these three states, hate groups can also be found in 45 other states and in more metropolitan areas such as Atlanta, Chicago, New York City, Sacramento, Philadelphia, and Pittsburgh.

Just as the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. prompted the enactment of major civil rights legislation, now is another time for our nation to stand up to the many forms of domestic terrorism that plague the nation. People of conscience and principle have a duty to stand up and speak out for the fullness and fulfillment of our “inalienable rights.”


Charlene Crowell is the communications deputy director with the Center for Responsible Lending. She can be reached at Charlene.crowell@responsiblelending.org.