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After Neo-Nazis Targeted Her, Taylor Dumpson Says Young Generations Give Her Hope

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Last week, a Colorado man was sentenced to 16 years in federal prison for brutally stabbing a man and nearly killing him. On its face, it might seem the kind of thing that resulted from a fight in a bar or a drug deal, the kind of story that might merit a little paragraph in a local paper. But this was something else entirely. The convicted man chose his victim, whom he did not know, for one reason only - because he's Black. And he told authorities he does not like Black people. It's just one example of a disturbing trend reported by the FBI recently.

Hate crimes rose in 2020, their highest levels in more than a decade. And the majority, nearly 62%, were motivated by race and ethnicity. And of those, more than a third targeted African Americans. This new data also comes amid a sharp rise in reported attacks on people of Asian descent, including several horrifying attacks on elders and women.

Attorney General Merrick Garland issued a statement about this, saying, quote, "hate crimes instill fear across entire communities and undermine the principles on which our democracy stands," unquote. We wanted to talk more about this, and we wanted to hear from someone with firsthand experience. So we called Taylor Dumpson. She is a president's fellow at the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. That's a civil rights organization here in Washington, D.C. But she was also a target of a hate crime attack. And she is with us now. Taylor Dumpson, thank you so much for joining us.

TAYLOR DUMPSON: Thank you for having me.

MARTIN: If you could just, as briefly as you can - and I know it's painful to talk about, but what exactly happened? I believe this happened the day you were sworn in - started the day you were sworn in as student body president.

DUMPSON: Yes, my first day in office. I became the first Black woman to become student government president at American University in May 2017. And on my first day in office, a masked perpetrator hung bananas from nooses around campus and a variety of places with the letters of my predominantly Black sorority, Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. And it also made reference to Harambe, the gorilla that was killed at the Cincinnati Zoo in 2016. Within four days after the hate crime happened, on May 1, I was notified by the Anti-Defamation League that I was the target of a troll storm by a known neo-Nazi on The Daily Stormer. Andrew Anglin encouraged his supporters to give me a, quote, "warm welcome" and encouraged them to cyberharass me by providing a link to my Facebook page, the AUSG Twitter page and social media.

MARTIN: Forgive me. This may seem like a banal question, but when something like that happens to you, like, how does it make you feel? I mean, does it feel like you can't walk around openly? Does it mean like you dread it every time you open your laptop or that you feel like you have to look over your shoulder all the time? Like, how does it make you feel when a person is targeted, like, in that way?

DUMPSON: I had to take increased safety precautions - installed cameras in places that I lived, made sure that when I went away to law school that I kept my location under wraps so that I made sure that my classmates wouldn't be targeted as well. It left me with PTSD, depression and anxiety. It made me lose 20% of my body - I mean, I lost 20 pounds, 15% of my body weight at the time. So I dropped from about 125 pounds to about 105 pounds within six months of the hate crime. And it really impacted just my ability to express myself as a young woman, somebody who was on a very active student campus and engage on, you know, everyday topics.

MARTIN: I was noting in the data that so many of these attacks were targeted toward African Americans. And I wonder if you think that people know that, that, I would say, a plurality - a significant percentage were directed toward African Americans. And I wonder if you think people know that.

DUMPSON: I think people hear about racism, and I think they hear about bias-related incidents. But I don't really think that they make it personal. So I don't think that a lot of people know that there were a rise in anti-Black hate crimes, particularly in the wake of the George Floyd murder and protests. I don't think that people realize the impact that anti-Asian American hate crimes have had, particularly in the wake of rhetoric that was used around the COVID pandemic. I think that people don't really understand the vast impact of hate crimes and really what's going on in their communities.

MARTIN: You, along with your lawyers, arrived at a novel settlement in your case. You demanded and got an apology from him. Could you talk a little bit more about what the settlement was in your case and why you think it's important?

DUMPSON: Yes. So I was thinking about my own experiences as a student advocate and thinking about the importance of education and the importance of restorative justice. This is something I had been exposed to in my activism and in the studies that I was doing. And so I wondered if we could use this as a teaching opportunity, perhaps. And so one of the defendants was, in my opinion, too young to be a neo-Nazi for the rest of his life. We were both fairly young in age. And I wanted to be able to give him a second chance. He happened to be the only defendant in the case that actually responded. So that, you know, led me to be a little bit more interested in working with him.

But he had to commit to doing education on race and gender studies. He had to do over 200 hours of community service with racial justice organizations. He had to commit to doing counseling and to be able to talk to somebody about these kinds of things. And he also had to do a face-to-face apology, basically renouncing racism and bigotry, and had to look me in my eyes and understand that it's not just words over the internet, that you had a real impact on a real human being.

MARTIN: I think you would have preferred not to have gone through this to begin with, right? I mean...

DUMPSON: Absolutely.

MARTIN: And so do you have any sense of what might intervene in these kinds of things so that we're not coming back year after year having this conversation, seeing these numbers continue to go up?

DUMPSON: I think it really calls for education, education at all levels, particularly with youth and understanding and appreciating diversity and difference between people. And I think that we interact differently when we're more culturally aware. I think that we - you know, we communicate with people differently when we're coming from a place of cultural competence. And so I think that cultural competence really is the key to getting to a point where we don't even have to be discussing hate crimes because one day I hope they don't even have to happen.

MARTIN: That was Taylor Dumpson. She's president's fellow at the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights. Taylor, thank you so much for joining us.

DUMPSON: Thank you so much for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.