Election of Obama provokes rise in U.S. hate crimes

ATLANTA Mon Nov 24, 2008 5:39pm EST

President-elect Barack Obama announces the members of his economic policy team during a news conference in Chicago, November 24, 2008. REUTERS/Jeff Haynes

President-elect Barack Obama announces the members of his economic policy team during a news conference in Chicago, November 24, 2008.

Credit: Reuters/Jeff Haynes

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ATLANTA (Reuters) - Barack Obama's election as U.S. president has provoked a rise in hate crimes against ethnic minorities, civil rights groups said on Monday.

Hundreds of incidents of abuse or intimidation apparently motivated by racial hatred have been reported since the November 4 election, though most have not involved violence, said the Southern Poverty Law Center.

White supremacist groups such as the Ku Klux Klan and the Council of Conservative Citizens have seen a flood of interest from possible new members since the landmark election of the first black president in U.S. history.

Far right groups are also capitalizing on rising unemployment in the economic downturn and a demographic shift that could make whites a minority by mid-century, the Southern Poverty Law Center said.

"We have seen a fairly dramatic backlash over the last three or four weeks, since the final weeks of the campaign," said Mark Potok of the Center, based in Montgomery, Alabama which monitors far right groups.

"These (incidents) are merely gut level reactions from a lot of people," Potok said. "There is a substantial subset of white people in America who are boiling angry over this."

In the highest-profile case, a federal grand jury indicted Jeffrey Conroy, 17, for second-degree murder and classed it as a hate crime last week after Marcelo Lucero of Ecuadorian descent was stabbed to death on New York's Long Island.

Six other teenagers face lesser charges in the case. All pleaded not guilty. Police said last week the seven youths set out to find and attack Latinos.

In other examples, a family in New Jersey that supported Obama found a charred wooden cross on its lawn a few days after the election. Burning crosses were used by the KKK as a means of terrorizing African Americans.

On election night, two teenagers beat up a black man on Staten Island, New York, and cursed him with racial epithets and "Obama."

There have also been numerous incidents in schools of racial tension and name-calling connected to the election, particularly in Southern states, Potok said.

Racial segregation was enforced in the South until the 1960s and blacks there were prevented from voting.

Some officials compared the increase in incidents to the rise in attacks on Muslims after the 9/11 attacks.

Seven civil rights groups denounced Lucero's killing at a news conference in Washington on Monday and called on the Justice Department to take stronger action.

They set the death in the context of a steady rise since 2003 in violence against Latinos, the largest immigrant group in the United States.

"The hysterical tone of many of the media pundits and the harsh qualities of rhetoric pushed by some policy makers at a local level have created a toxic environment which is promoting violence against immigrants and immigrant communities," said Karen Narasaki of the Asian American Justice Center.

(Editing by Jim Loney and Alan Elsner)

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