Agency: Harassment cases spike after Trump’s election

Michael Gerstein
The Detroit News

Lansing — More than three times as many alleged ethnic- or religious harassment cases that typically happen in a year transpired in the 10 days since Republican Donald Trump’s election as president, according to the Michigan Department of Civil Rights.

The department usually records six to eight such harassment incidents in a year, monitored through a special unit in the agency. Officials there have recorded 30 in the 10 days through Friday, said department director Agustin Arbulu.

State civil rights officials also reported a 40 percent increase in the number of people trying to report harassment or intimidation concerns on Nov. 14 — in comparison with the prior two Mondays. The number of attempted department contacts tapered off later in the week, Arbulu said.

Critics have accused Trump of creating a hostile atmosphere toward minorities by calling for the building of a wall on the southern border with Mexico and proposing a temporary halt to Muslim immigrants while the U.S. government improves its process for sorting out terrorists from the influx of Syrian refugees and others.

More than 701 incidents of harassment or intimidation have taken place across the nation between Nov. 9 and Nov. 16, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, which says it could not independently verify all of the incidents. It compiled the number from media reports, social media and direct contact with the center.

The center also recorded 30 such incidents in Michigan. It's unclear if those are the same 30 incidents reported by the Civil Rights Department.

"Since Donald Trump won the election we've seen an alarming number of hate-based incidents occur throughout the nation, some of which are no doubt stemming from Trump's hate-filled campaign," said the group's intelligence project director, Heidi Beirich.

Beirich called it "truly a frightening number."

When asked more than a week ago by CBS’ “60 Minutes” about the reported harassment of minorities such as Latinos and Muslims, Trump said: “I am so saddened to hear that. “And I say, ‘Stop it.’”

The Michigan department is monitoring the 30 allegations of harassment or intimidation that mostly involved the targeting of Latino, Arab or Muslim individuals, Arbulu said. Several complaints involved gay or transgendered individuals, while one incident involved a Native American, according to the department.

Arbulu said the department is “monitoring” the incidents but not actively investigating them. An investigation is only triggered if a signed and dated official complaint is returned to the department -- a process that can take three to four months before prompting an administrative hearing, Arbulu said.

An investigation and administrative hearing means the complaint is being handled similar to a criminal proceeding where the department observes due process right, he said.

“It’s just like a crime,” he said.

“We want to send a clear message that conduct that gets viewed as bullying, harassment, intimidation … It just has no place. And I think we’re better than that,” Arbulu said.

The Traverse City police officer who drove his truck to a “Love Trumps Hate” rally with a Confederate flag flying from the truck bed was included in the 30 recorded incidents.

The students who chanted “build the wall” in the Royal Oak Middle School lunch room was another incident the department is monitoring, Arbulu said.

Incidents involving gays included someone discovering that “fags” was written on an apartment door and a gay couple discovered a “hate note” that said “you’re in Trump country now,” Arbulu said.

A family discovered a wall of boxes upon which someone had scribbled “Mexicans suck,” he said.

Arbulu said the department is talking to several school districts about how to resolve ethnic- or religious-based bullying or harassment, but would not identify the districts.

The Civil Rights Department does not judge whether the 30 cases could be considered hate crimes because the department leaves potential criminal matters to prosecutors, he said.

“In some cases, they probably have been hostile enough that a victim feels that their lives are in danger, but whether or not that’s reasonable I couldn’t tell you,” Arbulu said. “That I leave to the prosecutor to determine.”