Words matter: Hate crime data shows a link between political speech and attacks

Local politicians are calling out Governor Ron DeSantis following the shooting that left three people dead, because they were Black.

It’s difficult to connect one person’s actions to another person’s violence, but professors who collect hate crime data say there are examples of political rhetoric inflaming or resulting in tragedies like the Dollar General shooting on Saturday.

Hate took the lives of three people in Jacksonville, and some are saying Governor DeSantis helped light this fire.

“You can’t go after protestors and after BLM and pass a new law about anti-protests going after AP African-American history, rewriting black slavery history–and think that you’re not fueling the white nationalism and the white supremacists that are already living here. Now you’re giving them an invitation to cause harm,” Former Florida Agriculture Commissioner, Nikki Fried, said.

“He was one of the reasons what happened Saturday, happened. The amount of culture wars he has created since he’s been in office, the Stop WOKE agenda that he has pushed,” State Representative Angie Nixon said.

Duval Republican Party Chair Dean Black disagrees. “The only person responsible for Saturday’s shooting was the racist psychopath who committed the act for Representative Nixon to suggest anything otherwise is completely irresponsible and incendiary.”

Jacksonville Sheriff, T.K. Waters, called the shooter a maniac, saying he targeted based on race.

Brian Levin with California State University’s Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism says there are consistent correlations related to a catalyst and rhetoric.

“It’s very hard to connect one person to another person’s violence. But what we have seen correlated time and time again, is when negative statements are made by leaders and stereotypical and conspiracist in nature, we see an uptick in not only violence, and murders. Yet, when political leaders have spoken tolerantly, we have examples where hate crimes have gone down,” Levin said.

He mentions how after 9-11, President Bush condemned unwarranted attacks on Muslims, and hate crimes dropped the next day and into the next year.

In 2020 – former President Trump said “when the looting starts the shooting starts,” and Levin says that was one of the 10 worst days for FBI reported hate crimes in over 30 years.

The list goes on – and Levin doesn’t expect it to stop.

“I can’t help but think that this atmosphere of anti-Black bigotry, which we’ve seen increasing in the last few years, isn’t aided and abetted not only by those who have their fingerprints on the crime scene, but those whose language intentionally or unintentionally creates these stereotypes,” Levin said.

Not all hate crimes make national or even local headlines, but he advise political leaders to watch what they say.

Levin says Florida officials could be better at reporting hate crime data, then take action to stop these crimes from happening.

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