Since Election Day, New York City officials have spoken regularly and emphatically about a rise in hate crimes, particularly those directed at Muslims. Gotham’s political leadership sees an obvious connection between Donald Trump’s victory and an uptick in hateful incidents. Mayor Bill de Blasio asserts that the rise “is documented . . . . It’s generated by the rhetoric that was used in the election. It’s not a surprise.” He also said, just a few days after the election, “some people now, unfortunately, take a signal from Donald Trump’s rhetoric that it’s open season against all the different kinds of people that Trump insulted and denigrated in his campaign.”
The mayor’s racial-hate narrative took an unexpected turn this week when one “victim” confessed that her story was entirely false. Yasmin Seweid, an 18-year-old Muslim woman, had told the police that she was accosted on the subway by three drunk white men who screamed insults at her, tried to pull off her headscarf, chanted Trump’s name, called her a terrorist, and told her to “go back to her country.” According to Seweid, there were many people on the train who saw what happened, but no one said or did anything. “It breaks my heart that so many individuals chose to be bystanders while watching me get harassed verbally and physically by these disgusting pigs,” she wrote on Facebook.
This last detail—that subway passengers in lower Manhattan ignored a young woman being violently assaulted—inspired visceral reactions among credulous New Yorkers who were primed to believe that Donald Trump’s victory had unleashed a flood of violent hate. City Council speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito tweeted, “DESPICABLE! #StandUpNYC!! No more silence. No more hate.” A number of demonstrators from a Brooklyn synagogue stood in the middle of Grand Central Terminal and unfurled a banner reading “#NotInOurCity,” which turned out to be literally true, as the attack had in fact not happened in their city, or any city. Seweid has admitted that she made up the story as a way to keep her strict father from learning that she was out drinking with a Christian boyfriend. She has been arrested for filing a false police report.
In the 28-day period following November 8, the number of hate incidents reported by the NYPD rose from 20 in 2015 to 43 in 2016. Most of these incidents were anti-Semitic: hate incidents against Jews tripled year-over-year, from eight to 24. Anti-Muslim hate increased as well, from two incidents in 2015 to four in 2016 (including the bogus attack on Seweid—three if her case is excluded). There were no anti-Hispanic attacks in the 4-week period in either 2015 or 2016. Anti-black hate crimes dropped from two in 2015 to one this year. Anti-gay hate incidents went from four to five. Curiously, the sharpest increase in hate violence was against a group that is rarely mentioned in these discussions: anti-white hate crime rose from one incident in 2015 to five this year, according to the NYPD.
Hate-crime statistics can be somewhat opaque as they include an enormous range of crimes. An attempt to shove someone in front of a train, while screaming, “I hate white people,” which happened on November 21 in Harlem, is apparently accorded the same significance as a swastika scrawled underneath the words “Praise Trump” in a derelict phone booth in Hell’s Kitchen. Asked if graffiti is counted in hate-crime statistics, de Blasio said, “I would assume so.” The NYPD did not respond to the same question when asked.
A high-profile anti-Semitic hate crime occurred in tony Brooklyn Heights at Adam Yauch Park, where some unknown individuals clumsily spray-painted swastikas with the word “Go Trump.” Hundreds of people gathered at the park, named for one of the Beastie Boys, to decry hatred, and blame Donald Trump and his supporters for the vandalism. “I am ordering the State Police to put together a special unit to address the explosion of hate crimes in our state,” announced Governor Andrew Cuomo in response.
Hate in itself is no crime: “hate crimes” are just crimes where a particular motive has been ascribed to the perpetrator for the purposes of giving longer sentences. Thus, hate crimes require insight into the state of mind of the criminal, which in the case of graffiti is usually impossible to ascertain. Without such knowledge, it can’t be known whether someone who draws a swastika with the word “Trump” on a playground is actually a Nazi, or is just trying to make an anti-Trump statement. Real incidents of bigoted violence are nothing to laugh at or be skeptical about. But it doesn’t serve the civic project, or the victims of actual crime, to treat every allegation or scribble as evidence of a growing tide of hate.