NORFOLK, Va. - State Police recently released new numbers on crime and while overall violent crimes are down by almost 4 percent, hate crimes are drastically up over last year.
Hate is an ugly word, but some in Hampton Roads say they have felt it based on the way they look, what they believe or who they are attracted to.
“Unfortunately, some people have that notion that being Muslim means terrorism,” said Raha Batts, leader at Masjid Ash-Shura mosque on Colley Avenue in Norfolk.
He said the women in his community get hateful remarks more than the men because of the way they dress. He said they are constantly dealing with unwanted remarks when they are out in public.
He said about two years ago he was been verbally attacked while walking with his wife in Downtown Norfolk.
“When he saw the way I was dressed and he saw my wife and how she was dressed, he just became enraged,” said Batts.
Batts said the situation didn’t escalate to violence because of the man’s friends.
However, when rage does turn violent, a crime can occur.
Tidewater Community College Department of Criminal Justice Head and former Norfolk Detective Richard James said he is disappointed to hear that State Police are reporting an increase in hate crimes, but he’s not shocked. He believes the political climate has impacted those numbers.
“Politicians are taking personal attacks on other people because of who they are or where they come from and I think that is spearing or fanning the fire in terms of hate groups,” said James.
Law enforcement reports in the state of Virginia, there were 202 hate crimes reported in 2017, which they say is up 47 percent from 2016.
“A hate crime is when you choose a victim based on the differences they have with you,” said James.
State Police report more than half the crimes were racially or ethnically motivated; next was bias towards religion and sexual orientation, and a small percentage was over people with a mental or physical disability.
The report says of all reported bias that motivated crime, 46 percent was associated with destruction/damage/vandalism of property; another 40.6 percent was associated with the offense of assault.
“Hate is not learned overnight. It is something that’s cultivated,” said James.
Batts said sometimes he worries for the safety of his family but doesn’t get mad at other peoples intolerance.
“It stems from a lack of understanding,” said Batts, “a lack of knowing what we Muslims believe in.”
He said he welcomes anyone to come to their mosque and learn about their religion.
“We don’t want any harm for this society or this community at all,” said Batts.
“We all want the same thing: The means to support our families and we want to live in safe communities and we want to be able to say that we were treated fairly,” said James.
And many hope that with more understanding, those hate crime statistics will go down.