Cops Are Going Undercover and Watching Social Media to Combat Hate Crimes

James Queally and Veronica Rocha, Los Angeles Times, November 28, 2016

In Redwood City, a man slugged a gas station employee and told police he did it because he wanted to hit a Mexican.

In Danville, a black student walked into a restroom at Monte Vista High School and found someone had scrawled the words “colored” and “whites” over separate urinals.

In Orange County, a local Republican official faced bipartisan scorn after she wrote on Facebook that she did not “want any type of Muslims in our country.”

Then, over the Thanksgiving Day holiday, numerous California mosques received handwritten letters that threatened the genocide of Muslims and praised President-elect Donald Trump.

Since election day, there have been reports in California and across the country of hate crimes, ugly verbal confrontations and other incidents. The election was one of the most divisive in modern history, punctuated with issues over illegal immigration, Muslims and treatment of women.

Despite numerous high-profile incidents, officials said they don’t know whether there are actually more hate crimes since the election or whether they are simply getting more attention.

Law enforcement agencies are trying to get ahead of the problem. Some are launching task forces to quickly investigate hate allegations. San Francisco, for example, is sending undercover officers into neighborhoods to see if they become the victims of hate crimes. It’s similar to a program the department launched to reduce sport-related violence by having  undercover cops wearing rival team gear during playoffs.

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Reported hate crimes throughout the U.S. rose 7% in 2015, according to the FBI. Incidents specifically targeting Muslims grew the most, with 257 reported incidents last year compared with 154 the year before. {snip}

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But Gascon and Beck also urged people to report incidents that might not be prosecutable but still might constitute racist or bigoted behavior. Police want to track those as well, and hope that by collecting information on racist behavior and speaking out against it, they can battle back what some call the “normalization” of hate.

“This is a new world for law enforcement,” Beck said. “We have people that monitor social media particularly in and around the things that we think may be related to hate crimes, and then we make value judgments based on the law.”

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The Southern Poverty Law Center last week reported 701 incidents of harassment since Trump’s win, with most occurring in the first three days following the election. Of those, 206 incidents were anti-immigrant and 51 were anti-Muslim.

There also were 27 reported anti-Trump incidents, according to the SPLC.

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