South Asians in the United States experienced a spike in hate violence and rhetoric during the 2016 presidential election similar to levels seen the year following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, according to a report released Wednesday by South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT).
In the report, titled "Power, Pain, Potential," the non-profit advocacy organization cataloged 207 incidents of hate violence and xenophobic political rhetoric directed toward South Asian, Muslim, Middle Eastern, Hindu, Sikh, and Arab communities between Nov. 15, 2015, and Nov. 16, 2016.
Of the incidents documented, 140 were acts of hate violence while 67 were acts of xenophobic rhetoric. Approximately 95 percent of those instances were animated by anti-Muslim sentiment, according to the report.
"I think that the spike in hate violence really quantifies the level of suspicion and mistrust that many of our community members continue to experience, feel and see on a daily basis," Suman Raghunathan, executive director of SAALT, told reporters Wednesday during a media conference call.
The report also found that approximately one in five of the documented xenophobic statements came from President-elect Donald Trump. While SAALT is a non-partisan organization that does not endorse political candidates, Raghunathan said the report was crucial at this time, given the nation's political debate and policies as it moves forward under a new administration.
SAALT's findings come at a time when South Asian Americans are among the fastest growing demographic groups in the country. According to the 2010 Census, 2.84 million Asian Indians lived in the United States, up from 1.67 million in 2000.
"I think that the hate violence statistics that we have tabulated … really typifies, unfortunately, the growing groundswell of hostility many of our community members continue to experience, even as our communities continue to grow rapidly [nationwide]," Raghunathan said.
SAALT has been tracking hate violence and rhetoric against South Asian communities for more than a decade, and noted that the uptick in these incidents parallels an overall increase in hate crimes nationwide. The FBI reported in 2015 a 66 percent rise in anti-Muslim hate crimes compared to the previous year.
The report also noted significant underreporting of hate crimes.
"What we are well aware of is that the increasing lack of trust that South Asians and Arab communities have, with respect to law enforcement, is real and has a significant impact on community members' willingness and comfort level to come forward if they're the victim or might be a victim of hate crime or violence," Raghunathan said.
In response to hate violence and rhetoric against South Asian communities, SAALT poses several solutions, including investing in youth leadership, increasing voter engagement, boosting civic engagement in communities of color, and promoting political education. The report further suggests that elected officials should take steps to establish "hate-free zones," pass anti-racial profiling legislation, and maintain the infrastructure to improve the reporting of hate violence.
"[We believe our recommendations] hold both federal elected officials, as well as state and local officials, accountable so they go beyond just the condemning of the words or the rhetoric or the actions of violence," Lakshmi Sridaran, director of national policy and advocacy at SAALT, said.