Public health alert: hate crimes

Depression. Anxiety. Stress. Drug Abuse. Suicidal ideation.

These read like a checklist from the DSM-5.

The list, in fact, enumerates the insidious health complications of bias crimes, the surreptitious aftermath of hate-related violence that slips into the psyche of vulnerable populations poisoning the health of minds and bodies.

As caregivers, our nurses have the skills and know-how to help identify and fight these devastating illnesses in our hospitals and on our streets. We have committed to stand together to protect our most vulnerable patients and pool our professional resources to fight the health risks of hatred just as we would fight any other illness. Never in recent years has the need been more pressing.

Hate Crimes are on the rise

Across the country, communities have felt terror as hate crimes surged in 2015, escalated in 2016, and catapulted again in the first months of the new year. In 2015, according to The New York Times, hate crimes soared nationwide about 6 percent above the previous year. These bias-related incidents included “assaults, bombings, threats, and property destruction against minorities, women, gays and others.”

From 2015 to 2016, year-to-year increases in hate crimes ranging from 20 to 42 percent were reported in the metropolitan areas of New York City, Chicago, Seattle and Montgomery County, Maryland. During that same period, bias crimes in New York State shot up 20 percent. And compared to the same months in 2016, New York City reported hate crimes skyrocketed in January and February of 2017, up 55 percent.

More recently, on March 22, James Harris Jackson confessed to the stabbing of Timothy Kauffman in Midtown Manhattan because Kauffman was black. In general, he [Jackson] came here to target male blacks,” Chief of Manhattan Detectives William Aubry said. “He knew what he was doing ...” Kauffman, 66, was admitted to Bellevue Hospital Center, where he died.

NYSNA nurses working on the frontlines at Bellevue and other hospitals across New York State know first-hand how hate-related violence insinuates itself into our communities and the impact it can have on community health. They understand intimately the residual effects of Timothy Kauffman’s murder, of a bomb threat at a Jewish Community Center in Rochester, or of a woman kicked and beaten for wearing a hajib at Kennedy Airport.

Hatred is toxic on both an individual and a societal basis

Science supports what our nurses have witnessed. According to psychologists at UC Davis, victims of hate crimes experience higher levels of depression than victims of random crime. In addition, they continue to suffer more acutely “from depression, stress, and anger for as long as 5 years after their victimization occurred.” Where bias crimes are prevalent, members of minority communities, whether by sexual orientation, race, religion, or gender identity, have higher mortality and drug abuse rates — even among those who have not been targeted by violent hate crimes.

Toll on victims

Mortality rates are higher overall for LGBT people in places with extreme levels of anti-gay prejudice, one study showed. In neighborhoods where assault rates on LGBT people of all ages are high, suicidal ideation and attempts are significantly greater among LGTB teenagers; the high schoolers themselves were not necessarily victims of bias crimes.

Groups subject to collective discrimination after a specific event, like the attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, also suffer higher levels of psychological distress and lower levels of happiness. This was true, according to one study, of Arab Americans living in the United States who experienced discrimination after the September 11 attacks.

Hate is bad for the haters too

Hate is not just unhealthy for its victims. It is unhealthy for those who harbor it. Studies that have looked at the impact of anger on our bodies revealed the following: just five minutes of extreme anger can compromise our immune functions for up to six hours. People with high levels of anger regularly are at higher risk for heart disease.
In addition, researchers have associated feelings of “racial resentment” with higher levels of tobacco use. This, in turn, led to negative health outcomes for people with racist feelings toward others.

Nurses stand for health and against hate

As professionals, nurses take hate crime and its health consequences seriously. We are committed to bringing our considerable skills to identifying and treating the toxic effects hate has on the health of our communities. As caregivers, we commit to caring for ALL New Yorkers and we stand with the victims of hate crimes — LGBT, Muslims, Jews, women and people of color — in our hospitals and on our streets.

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