Libraries Become Unexpected Sites of Hate Crimes

Monday, December 12, 2016
Defaced library book about the Qu'ran (photo: Facebook)

 

By Christopher Mele, New York Times

 

A librarian at the public library in Evanston, Illinois, was recently preparing for a program titled “The Quran: Is It a ‘Good Book’?”

 

She gathered books to display for attendees and discovered that inside the cover of one, “The Koran for Dummies,” someone had written “lies cover to cover,” drawn a swastika and made a disparaging remark about the Prophet Muhammad.

 

She discovered six more books about Islam and the Quran that had been similarly defaced with racist language and imagery, officials said. The vandalism was a first for the library, Karen Danczak Lyons, its director, said in an interview.

 

Authorities say there has been a spate of hate crimes targeting libraries, their books or patrons — offenses officials said they had rarely seen before. These crimes coincide with a recent FBI report that attacks against American Muslims surged last year.

 

Danczak Lyons called the episode “troubling,” noting that libraries, which promote education, research and discussions, had unexpectedly become sites for acts of divisiveness.

 

The library filed a police report, but there have been no arrests. Some of the books had not been checked out in a couple of years, and others had been taken out over the summer. Any damage would have been noted on their return, meaning the vandalism was probably recent, Danczak Lyons said. The library has cameras, but not in every aisle, and surveillance footage offered no clues about the vandalism.

 

In addition to the books defaced in Evanston, the American Library Association highlighted these cases from last month:

 

— A student at the University of New Mexico was studying in the school’s library when she was approached by a man who tried to remove her hijab, the BBC reported. She evaded her attacker and was not injured.

 

— Administrators at Reed College in Portland, Oregon, discovered hateful, threatening messages and swastikas on the walls of the college’s library, KOIN 6 reported.

 

— Anti-Semitic graffiti was scrawled on the window of a library branch in Toronto, CBC News reported.

 

“In the last year, we have had startling increases in the number of hate crimes,” Julie Todaro, president of the American Library Association, said in an interview last week.

 

“I am stunned that I have seven or eight examples, because we have never had these kinds of crimes before in libraries,” she said. “We are in an increasingly difficult situation, because the communities are as divided as they have ever been.”

 

The association, which represents public, academic and school libraries and has more than 58,000 members worldwide, previously learned of cases like these anecdotally.

 

Because of a “sudden increase” in such crimes — three in a couple of weeks after one in a year — the association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom is starting to formally track them, the office’s director, James LaRue, said in an email. He said it was difficult to know whether the uptick was “a blip or a trend.”

 

“We hope to track the details, locations and frequency, the better to stay on top of it, develop training or webinars, and support our members,” he said.

 

The New York Public Library, which serves the Bronx, Manhattan and Staten Island, and the Queens Library reported no hate crimes in 2016. The Brooklyn Public Library did not respond to emails requesting comment.

 

Christopher Platt, chief branch library officer at the New York Public Library, said that with these episodes came opportunities.

 

“Our goal is to be able to sponsor better understanding, empathy to others, and to be able to cut through some of this hate and anger,” he said. “I would say that when these things do happen, we have communities who value us tremendously, and they rise up and support the library.”

 

To Learn More:

Online Hate Sites Surge during Month since Election (by A.C. Thompson and Ken Schwencke, ProPublica)

As U.S. Hate Crimes Rise in Wake of Trump Win, Their Underreporting by Nation’s Police Leaves FBI with Flawed Data (by A.C. Thompson and Ken Schwencke, ProPublica)

U.S. Hate Crimes against Muslims Rose in 2015 to Highest Level since Aftermath of 9/11 Attacks (Associated Press)

As Nominee, Trump Employs Code Words to Fuel Racial Animosity, Say Observers (by Russell Contreras and Jesse J. Holland, Associated Press)

Trump Anti-Immigrant Rhetoric Emboldens Hate Mongers (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)

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