GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Local and state officials say they have seen an increase in hate speech — particularly by students — since Donald Trump was elected to the White House last week.
The Michigan Department of Civil Rights is reporting an increase in calls about hateful, racist, sexist or homophobic comments.
“We have had an uptick in contacts regarding ethnic intimidation, harassment, bullying,” said Agustin Arbulu, the executive director of the department. “Now whether these contacts translate to complaints, I won’t be able to tell you. But I’m being told some are complaints.”
The department will request an investigation for the calls that they find enough evidence to become a formal complaint.
HARASSMENT IN SCHOOLS
What may be most disturbing is that many of the calls are for incidents that happened to kids in Michigan schools.
State Superintendent Brian Whiston on Monday released a statement saying that since the election, there has been “a number of reported incidents in Michigan schools of students harassing, bullying, intimidating, and using hateful speech toward other students.”
He went on to say that schools should be “safe havens for our children — free from hate; free from intimidation; free from bullying; and free from fear.” He encouraged faculty and parents to help develop “steadfast respect for all others” in students and teach them that bullying and intimidation “is unacceptable and will have consequences.”
Angie Morales runs a radio station for the West Michigan Hispanic community. She said the station has been getting calls ever since election night — mostly from parents whose kids are on the receiving end of racist comments.
“I can’t imagine how much terrible that would be,” said Morales, who has two children of her own in school.
She said that “as adults, it’s really hard for us, so as a child having to be listening to this” must be especially difficult.
Local minority leaders met Monday to address the problem.
“You have a student population — in particular, students of color — who are afraid to go to school,” Joe Jones, the president and CEO of the Grand Rapids Urban League, said.
“In our case particularly, Latino students that are being told, ‘Go back to Mexico,’ ‘Build that wall,’ ‘What are you still doing here? Haven’t you packed?'” listed Roberto Torres, the executive director of the Hispanic Center of Western Michigan.
Citing privacy concerns, local leaders wouldn’t comment on which schools are seeing the worst problems. They did say the ethnic intimidation hasn’t reached the point of physical violence.
Monday, their goal was to speak up during a time when it might be needed more than ever.
“To say that is not the Western Michigan that we know and that we need to be better,” Torres told 24 Hour News 8. “We don’t want to see us reach a point and time in this community where we look back and say we remained silent when we should’ve spoken up.”
The Hispanic Center is working with the City of Grand Rapids Community Relations Committee, the Urban Core Collective and other organizations to hold a meeting to create an action plan to resolve and prevent intimidation. That meeting, facilitated by the Greater Grand Rapids Racial Equity Network, is scheduled for 1 p.m. Nov. 22 at LINC UP, located at 1167 Madison Ave. SW.
Morales encouraged a message of unity:
“Quit focusing on all the negative and start providing love to our neighbors, our co-workers,” she said.
GRAND RAPIDS MAYOR: ‘PRACTICE KINDNESS, TOLERANCE’
Grand Rapids Mayor Roslynn Bliss said the city has also seen an uptick in the complaints about harassment and hate speech.
“I’m asking people to join me in practicing empathy and kindness and acceptance and tolerance,” Bliss said.
In a two-page open letter to the people of her city released Monday, Bliss said she was sad to received dozens of texts, calls and emails reporting hateful, racist, sexist or homophobic comments made to citizens or their children.
“It’s heartbreaking and I really do believe that we can and we must do better,” Bliss said.
“I understand and I appreciate that people feel very strongly about the outcome of the election,” she added. “And to me, now is a time to focus on coming together.”
Bliss’s letter in its entirety:
“Hello Friends and Neighbors:
“Now that a few days have passed since the election, my heart is heavy as I hear from many of our fellow residents who have been subjected to hateful, racist, sexist and/or homophobic comments – comments made to them directly or, worse, to their children.
“There is absolutely no excuse for treating individuals this way. I believe we model the behavior we wish to see, especially for the children in our community. I believe we strive to be a welcoming, inclusive and caring community, and when we witness or experience the sort of treatment that many have received this past week, we need to respond.
“For individuals you know who have experienced hostility, I hope you make an extra effort to remind them they are welcome here and they are cared for and valued. If you personally are treated poorly, I hope you share your experience with others. Please feel free to contact the Michigan Civil Rights Commission and convey what you have experienced.
“And for our children, we have to make every effort to help them feel safe and assure them that such hostility is a rare and unacceptable exception, whether they experience it from a classmate or an adult. There are resources available to support parents and their children, which I am listing below.
“I believe we need to support one another – and often doing so is a balancing act between listening and being active. Our friends and neighbors need to know they are supported.
“The Grand Rapids Racial Equity Network has an upcoming meeting on November 22 at 1 p.m., and all are welcome to attend to be part of the conversation around how we can be a welcoming and inclusive community. The meeting will take place at LINC’s Community Building, 1167 Madison Ave. SE.
“Please know I am here for you and will continue to search for ways to be supportive and responsive. Working together, we can make this a great community for everyone.”
Whiston’s complete statement:
“Since the U.S. Presidential election last week, there have been a number of reported incidents in Michigan schools of students harassing, bullying, intimidating, and using hateful speech toward other students.
“I realize that certainly at the national level over the past year, we saw the debate go to a new low, and that is impacting the actions, demeanor, and mood in some of our schools.
“Our schools must be safe havens for our children – free from hate; free from intimidation; free from bullying; and free from fear.
“We need to cultivate and develop in our students a steadfast respect for all others, inclusive of race, religion, orientation, or social-economic standing. We must not let political rhetoric and actions diminish the positive learning environments we’ve worked so hard to nourish.
“I ask that educators at all levels, from principals to teachers to parents, help their students understand that bullying and intimidation – in word and action – is unacceptable and will have consequences.”