Capitol Alert

‘Words have meaning:’ Kamala Harris links violence to anti-Muslim rhetoric

California Attorney General Kamala Harris listens to questions about a settlement with Volkswagen during a news conference on June 28, 2016, in San Francisco.
California Attorney General Kamala Harris listens to questions about a settlement with Volkswagen during a news conference on June 28, 2016, in San Francisco. AP

Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Kamala Harris, campaigning Wednesday at a service hosted by the Islamic Center of Southern California, attributed the rise of California hate crimes motivated by religion to a national ratcheting up of “rage” in the political discourse.

Harris, a career prosecutor, said the relationship between speech and violent action occurs “on an almost constant basis.”

“I know how painful and violent these crimes can be. I know they are uniquely insidious in that they are intended to strip its victim of dignity. So words matter,” said Harris, speaking at a service marking the end of the holy month of Ramadan.

Without naming Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, Harris denounced his remarks about Latino and Muslim judges possibly not being able to rule impartially in cases involving him because of his plans to build a U.S.-Mexico border wall, and for a “total and complete shutdown” of Muslims entering the U.S. She later bemoaned Trump’s policy to deny entry into the U.S. to people “based on whether they face east when they pray.”

She added: “Hate is like a poison in the bloodstream of our public life. And in our body politic. And when hate becomes acceptable, violence is inevitable.”

Harris, the state attorney general, pointed to figures released by her office Friday showing a 50 percent increase in hate crimes motivated by religious bias, including attacks on mosques and synagogues. Anti-Muslim incidents more than doubled and anti-Semitic events rose by nearly 20 percent.

Hate crimes against Latinos were up 35 percent while hate crimes against African Americans constituted roughly a third of the entire category.

In her remarks Wednesday, Harris read off a long list of worldwide attacks: from San Bernardino and Orlando, to Paris, Istanbul and Bangladesh.

“We have seen the ugliest consequences of mental illness and violent extremism,” she said. “And we have seen how these incidents have created a climate of fear ... that in many circumstances has been informed by misinformation ... being manipulated as a justification for xenophobia, a justification for religious bias.”

Harris is running against fellow Democrat Loretta Sanchez, a veteran congresswoman from Orange County, who previously drew criticism from the Council on American Islamic-Relations and other groups for suggesting that between 5 percent and 20 percent of Muslims want to form a caliphate to target Western norms. Critics pegged the number as too high, or argued it’s impossible to estimate a worldwide number.

Sanchez has pointed to sources claiming a wide range of percentages. She also has said that nobody has refuted her numbers with authoritative research.

Christopher Cadelago: 916-326-5538, @ccadelago

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