Don't Just Blame Trump for Rise in Colorado Hate Crimes, Expert Says

Donald Trump during an appearance in Colorado.
Donald Trump during an appearance in Colorado. Photo by Brandon Marshall
According to just-released statistics compiled by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, hate crimes in Colorado went up a disturbing 74 percent from 2018 to 2019. But while many observers have connected outgoing president Donald Trump's divisiveness and racist dog-whistling to the upswing of such incidents nationwide, Scott Levin, who serves as regional director for the mountain states region of the Anti-Defamation League, warns against placing too much responsibility for the situation on Trump, or assuming that his loss to former vice president Joe Biden in this month's election means the situation is automatically going to improve.

"I wouldn't lay the blame entirely on President Trump and his administration," Levin says. "This rise has been going on for too long."

According to Levin, the number of hate crimes in Colorado went from 121 in 2018 to 210 the next year — and he fears the actual total may be considerably higher, since the FBI's data is based on "all the hate crimes reported by different police departments across the country, or at least the ones actually willing to report it."

Specifically, Levin reveals that police departments in Arvada, Greeley and Lakewood "all reported no hate crimes — which could be true, but it's a little hard to believe. All of them have populations over 100,000, but there hasn't been an incident that would merit being called a hate crime?"

Levin adds: "Hate crimes are typically underreported, because there are a lot of communities that don't feel comfortable reporting them to law enforcement. That can have an impact, too."

Of the 210 hate crimes designated by the FBI in Colorado, Levin says that "117 of them were based on race and ethnicity, 47 were about sexual orientation, 36 were about religion, seven were about disability and five were about gender identity — and all of them were higher than where we had been the prior year. For instance, the ones about race and ethnicity went from 78 to 117, sexual orientation went from 24 to 47, and religion went from 16 to 36 — and 63 percent of those were about anti-Semitism against Jews. That, unfortunately, has been consistent as well."

The trend is worrisome — and it's hardly new.

"We've seen this increase much longer than the Trump administration has been in office," Levin explains. "I would say for the past ten years or more, we've been seeing this go up dramatically."

The 2008 election of President Barack Obama was a key event, he suggests: "I think part of this is that our country has still not come to grips with a lot of the systemic racism and other issues that having our first Black president brought to the fore for some of the people who may have acted out in hate crimes. Then we moved to the next administration, which was not vocally and clearly denouncing all of these hate crimes — and then we saw them increase much more."

A new Biden administration could start moving the needle in a different direction, Levin suggests, and so might legislation such as the Jabara-Heyer NO HATE Act, which his organization heartily endorses. But he doesn't expect a magic solution.

"Unless and until we can pull together as a nation and really have respect for everyone notwithstanding their race, religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation or any other marker, this is going to be a problem," he maintains. "Whatever religion, whatever politics, we need to all say there's no place for hate in our society."
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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts