Two Muslim communities in the Midwest have reported serious crimes in the past two days, suggesting that hate crimes against Muslims in the U.S. may be on the rise.
The incidents come after a string of anti-Muslim crimes in four states -- Washington, California, Texas and New York -- since the Israel-Gaza conflict and beheading of two American journalists by terror group ISIS that took place during the summer. Local chapters of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) have called for federal investigations of the incidents, which damaged property and, in one case, took a life.
The most recent incident took place Thursday night when a 15-year-old boy was killed in a hit-and-run outside the Somali Center of Kansas City. According to police, the boy’s legs were severed when an SUV intentionally swerved toward him and struck him. He was transported to a hospital but died from his injuries. The driver of the vehicle, a man in his 30s, ran from the scene but was caught by the police and taken into custody. Family members told WDAF-TV the teenager was the son of the Somali Center’s leader.
Community members say the driver has been threatening the Muslim community for months on Facebook and in person. They shared a photo with the media of the man's SUV with anti-Muslim graffiti on its back window that read, "Quran is a virus disease woreste [sic] than Ebola."
Police would not say whether the SUV in the photo was the one involved in the incident. No graffiti was reported to be on the vehicle, however a machete was found inside it, KCTV reported.
“We urge federal authorities to get involved in this case in order to send the message that our nation’s leaders will not allow American Muslims to be targeted because of their faith,” CAIR-Kansas Chairman Moussa Elbayoumy said in a statement Friday.
The deadly Kansas City incident came a day after vandalism was reported at the Central Minnesota Islamic Center in St. Cloud. It was the third time the building’s windows were damaged in recent weeks.
Worshippers’ property has also been targeted. Earlier this week, at the Islamic Center of St. Cloud, located around the corner from the Central Minnesota Islamic Center, congregants said their car windows were damaged while they attended morning prayers.
"At the beginning we were thinking it was isolated -- a student or drunk person. But it isn't," Mohamoud Mohamed, spokesman for the Central Minnesota Islamic Center, told the St. Cloud Times said about the vandalism. "It is some person or persons who are causing damage and targeting our faith facilities."
In St. Paul, Minnesota, graffiti was found on a driveway in a neighborhood where several Muslim families live. On Oct. 28, a resident reported the graffiti, which read, “[expletive] Islam” written in motor oil on the pavement, the Star Tribune reported.
“It’s troubling because St. Paul is very diverse and there’s a large Muslim community in Minnesota,” Lori Saroya, CAIR-MN executive director, said about the incident.
Minnesota has a large Somali population, the majority of whom are Muslim. An estimated 77,000 live in the state. Most arrived as refugees and have been resettled by local agencies such as Lutheran Social Services, Catholic Charities and World Relief. In Missouri, Somali refugees are the second-largest refugee population in the state, with 1,900 people arriving between 2000 and 2011.
According to the 2012 Missouri Hate Crime report, 10 percent of hate crimes that were motivated by a religious bias were anti-Islamic in nature. Minnesota does not offer similar hate crime statistics. Saroya said her office has not received recent reports of other anti-Muslim crimes, although mosques and homes are vandalized a few times each year in the state.
Anti-Muslim sentiment has been reported elsewhere in the United States. On Nov. 20, headstones and memorials at a Muslim cemetery in Maltby, Washington, were destroyed. In California, mosques in Santa Cruz and San Diego were vandalized in October and November. A shooting took place at a mosque in Coachella on Nov. 4. No one was injured.
And on Thursday, a Houston elementary school teacher resigned after making anti-Muslim comments on a political talk show. "I am so sick of the bacon-haters coming here and demanding that we bend to their culture -- no," Angela Box said on a segment discussing terrorism. She also used profanity when discussing Muslims.
In New York City, NYPD police said the number of hate crimes against Jews and Muslims has spiked since the Israel-Gaza conflict this summer and the beheading of two American journalists by the Islamic State group, also known as ISIS or ISIL.
As of Sept. 9, there was a 35 percent increase in anti-Semitic incidents reported in the city compared with 2013. As for anti-Muslim hate crimes, there were 15 incidents in 2014 compared with seven last year; 12 took place between July and August.
“A person normally not offended is offended and is moved to take action,” Deputy Chief Michael Osgood of the NYPD’s Hate Crimes Task Force, said at a news conference, speculating on reasons behind the recent spike.