It's been two years since an unarmed man, 25-year-old Bijan Ghaisar, was shot and killed by police in Fairfax County. Kojo sits down with Bijan's family to discuss their quest for answers.
From the 2017 attack on Muslim teen Nabra Hassanen during Ramadan and the violent clash in Charlottesville, Virginia, to the killing of the black student Richard Collins III at University of Maryland, high-profile crimes have rocked our region over the past year and raised questions about hate in our Washington communities. Kojo discusses how we can process these crimes in our community and how investigating and prosecuting them as hate crimes in particular present unique challenges.
- Arjun Singh Sethi Author, "American Hate"; @arjunsethi81
- Kristen Clarke President, Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law
"American Hate" Excerpt
From Chapter Two: Taylor Dumpson
I decided to run for student government president. I had already joined numerous organizational boards and clubs on campus, and was ready to take the next step. Student office and politics isn’t for everyone, but I thought I could make a difference at AU and in the nation’s capital. I would be the first black woman to be student government president at AU in its more than one-hundred-year history, and I would serve just down the street from a president who preached hate.
There were four candidates in total; I was the only black one. The entire room erupted when they announced my victory. Seeing the freshmen yell in excitement because they had a president that looked like them meant the world to me. I won by just 129 votes. I was sworn in on April 30, 2017.
The very next morning, on May 1, bananas were found hanging from nooses made of black nylon rope in at least three separate locations on AU’s campus. The bananas were marked with the letters “AKA,” the abbreviation for the historically black sorority Alpha Kappa Alpha, of which I’m a member. One of the bananas read “Harambe bait,” a reference to the gorilla killed at the Cincinnati zoo in 2016. The bananas were spread out across campus; one of them was right next to the freshman dorms. Grainy video footage showed a person in a stocking cap hanging them between 4 and 6 a.m. The FBI and DOJ are investigating it as a hate crime.
The entire black community was targeted that day. So was every vulnerable community on campus, all on my first day in office. It was supposed to be a new beginning. Instead, they tried to knock us back down. I was shocked and angry. My dad told me to keep my head up and reminded me that I had earned the title of student government president. I broke down on the phone while talking with my mom about what happened. They both came to AU later that day to be with me. I always had someone by my side those first few days. I kept a brave face on the outside, but was broken inside.
I thought the worst was behind me. For four days straight, I had barely slept or eaten, and was looking forward to a good night’s rest. But when I got home, I received an email telling me that I was being cyber-trolled by neo-Nazis at the Daily Stormer, a white supremacist website with a very active and hateful readership. I had never even heard of the website, but entire articles on it were written about me. I was called a “nigger agitator” and “negress.” Someone photoshopped KFC buckets on my head. I don’t know how many images and articles ultimately appeared because I stopped checking. It was my first night alone since the hate crime on campus.
Looking back, I can tell you that every act of love and compassion mattered. Diverse students from so many different communities rallied to condemn hate on campus. I received countless letters, emails, and messages of support from all over the world. I keep many of them in a positive-thoughts jar; they always give me comfort.
We need that kind of unity and solidarity to resist the hateful rhetoric and policies of the Trump administration. I’ve protested so many times in Washington, DC, and am always encouraged by the diversity of issues and people represented there. We should be protesting the Muslim ban, mass deportations, revocation of transgender rights, the assault on health care, and all the other ways in which communities are under fire. I’m also proud of the diverse coalition that I represent at AU. I work closely with black, Jewish, Muslim, queer, disabled, and undocumented students. White supremacists aren’t coming for one of us. They’re coming for all of us.
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