False hate crime reports spur further concerns for campus safety and inclusivity

Wednesday, February 22, 2017 - 9:25pm

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Illustration by Ava Weiner

 

Two of three hate crimes reported in the week following the 2016 presidential election at the University of Michigan were recently determined to be falsely reported to the Ann Arbor Police Department, and updates have raised concerns about backlash for marginalized students.

The first incident occurred on Nov. 11, when a student reported being approached by an unknown man who threatened to set her on fire if she didn’t remove her hijab. The incident became national news, with outlets like The Washington Post covering the report. The other reported crime occurred on Nov. 15, when a man allegedly scratched a woman's face with a safety pin. AAPd deemed both incidents to have never occured.  

A student also reported being verbally assaulted and pushed down a hill on Nov. 12. While this report was verifiable, AAPD stated there was no evidence to determine a suspect, and the investigation has since been halted.

All three of these reports motivated significant activism on campus. Music, Theatre & Dance senior James Ross Kilmeade organized a protest that attracted more than 200 people in response to the first hate crime, and nearly 150 people gathered on the Diag at an additional protest on Nov. 18.

While the student involved in the Nov. 11 crime is not being charged for the false report, detectives have submitted a warrant request for criminal charges against the Ann Arbor resident involved in the safety pin incident.

Some community members have been dissatisfied with the reaction to the falsity of these reports, and have called for repercussions, as well as a level of action similar to events organized after the initial reports were made.

LSA junior Enrique Zalamea, president of the University’s chapter of College Republicans, wrote in an email interview he was upset by the lack of action taken by the University.

According to Zalamea, Amanda Delekta, political director for College Republicans, reached out to University President Mark Schlissel when the first accusation was proven false and was told the action taken by the AAPD was sufficient.

“These false accusations were once used as a rallying cry against conservatives and against President Trump,” Zalamea wrote. “The University has a duty to its students to keep them safe. And given all the fear these accusations caused, I believe the University must do its best in notifying all students about the true deceptive nature of these allegations.”

Zalamea believes people involved with falsely reporting the crimes should receive consequences.

“There should be real legal consequences for anyone who files a false police report, especially since these serious allegations incited so much fear in the community,” Zalamea wrote.

On social media, critiques of the false reports spiraled into personal attacks on the alleged victims.  

Many marginalized students subsequently fear future hate crimes will be immediately discredited, and hold heightened concerns about polarization on campus. LSA sophomore Alyiah Al-Bonijim, one of the organizers of Halfway Hijabi: Hijabi Monologues, was upset by the false reports as well. She believes, however, the type of mentality expressed by critics will perpetuate the idea that all reported hate crimes are fabricated.

“Putting too much attention on these two false reports, out of the many reported following and preceding the election, works to push forward this idea that hate crimes as a whole are fake,” Al-Bonijim wrote in an email interview. “Truthfully, reluctance has come from fear of not being believed later on in the future if something like this does occur.”

Fatima Haidar, another Hijabi Monologues organizer, expressed concern regarding the release of the updates from the AAPD.

“Sometimes the kind of decisions that the police make in terms of saying that this is false information is going to lead to a confirmation bias on either side,” she said. “So it may lead to people who had already perceived these minorities as weak or sensitive to continue with that idea and say yeah they are liars too. It’s not helping the situation.”

Haidar and Al-Bonijim acknowledged the significant community response to the initial reports as well as the response from the Division of Public Safety and Security, but had some concerns regarding their impact. The determination that the reports were fabricated upset Al-Bonijim, particularly because of the powerful response she and the Muslim community received from the campus community.

“I was upset that so many amazing people worked so hard to provide support for the Muslim community and could only imagine how they feel about using their valuable time to support us,” Al-Bonijim wrote.

However, she went on to say that despite the large response, the ties formed could always be strengthened.

“Yes, support has been large, but it can be larger,” Al-Bonijm wrote. “It can also be more intersectional and less temporary. Support always comes in masses when a huge incident occurs, but I want to push for this to last past the boundaries of a trend.”

Haidar suggested that DPSS pursue a more preventative approach to hate crimes, particularly in the face of these false reports.

“It's really the lack of action or emphasis on certain things that might lead to a progression of problems that could be avoided,” Haidar said. “I think they should be doing everything they can to prevent hate crimes not just respond to them.”

University Counseling and Psychological Services has responded to tension on campus by recognizing the increased need for a safe place where students can receive support. CAPS has added a page to its website, “Navigating a Complex World: Current Events That Impact Students,” to outline its commitment to providing culturally competent services.

Sheryl Kelly, coordinator of CAPS’s Inclusive Excellence Initiatives, described some of the resources CAPS offers students who have concerns about the campus climate, including walk-in times, appointments and after-hours services. Students are also able to request to speak to someone from a particular social demographic if that makes them feel more comfortable. Kelly also noted there has been an increase in students who come in to talk about concerns regarding the campus climate.

“A lot of students are being impacted by current events, so when they come in, I ask how they are doing in the current campus climate,” Kelly said. “We have many students that come in who specifically identify that as a problem.”