“That’s the same kind of language that was used in the Kansas City killings,” says Glickhouse, citing a February shooting where the accused gunman allegedly told the two India-born men he shot “get out of my country” before opening fire. “It’s a pattern that we’ve found that reflects more serious crimes that have taken place. What we find in the database is this typical harassment doesn’t often rise to something more than that, but there have been these high-profile murders where that rhetoric was used.”
Lasania, from CAIR, says the goal of the Documenting Hate project — to raise awareness about hate-related incidents — is an important method for reducing them. For its part, CAIR has worked to bring attention to dozens of such incidents, whether the victim is Muslim or not.
“Whenever we see a hate incident — and it doesn’t matter whether the person is Muslim or not — anything that occurs due to discrimination, due to ignorance, we have to document it,” says Lasania. “If it’s left undocumented, if it’s left unaddressed, then these incidents of intimidation turn into bigger incidents of hate-motivated violence.”
In July, CAIR partnered with the Union Project and held a bystander-intervention training to help people learn how to address the incidents of harassment and intimidation they witness. Lasania believes the large turnout at the event, and the passion displayed by participants, indicates Pittsburghers have the power to reduce the number of hate incidents that has risen in the months since the presidential election.
“So many people showed up,” Lasania says. “That certainly shows that people are aware and people want to stop it. They don’t want these incidents to take place.”
Twenty-four-year-old Ernest Rajakone is similarly hopeful. He was among those who turned out with CAIR to support Ankur Mehta, who was a victim of hate crime in March. As a fellow member of the South Asian community, he felt it was important to support Mehta, but also to send a message.
“It’s very important in today’s environment where there’s a lot of intolerant and, often times, xenophobic rhetoric, both societally and politically, for victims to know that communities are standing behind them,” Rajakone says. “It also sends a broader message to the community at large that this kind of thing isn’t acceptable, and there are people out there who are pursuing a tolerant and inclusive vision for our community.”
Rajakone works as a community-affairs liaison for the City of Pittsburgh. He interned for Gov. Tom Wolf in 2014, and before that he served as a congressional intern for the U.S. House of Representatives. But none of these accomplishments have spared him from being the victim of ethnic and racial intimidation and harassment.
“At points within my life, there were times where I didn’t feel comfortable because of my race or ethnicity. There were times where the way I was treated was because of the color of my skin,” Rajakone says. “I grew up in Central Pennsylvania, the heart of Trump country.”
Despite the increase in hateful rhetoric since the presidential election, Rajakone agrees with Lasania that Pittsburgh and the United States as a whole are far better off than other countries and are committed to addressing these persistent problems.
“My parents immigrated to this country from an area that was ravaged by civil war and political oppression,” Rajakone says. “Whatever flaws there may be within our society, the great thing about America is people can raise their voice about things that matter to them.”