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‘Let’s shift the focus’: Jussie Smollett case is potentially a hoax, but hate crimes are real

In 2017, there were 321 police-reported hate crimes against black Canadians.

There were also 204 hate crimes reported based on sexual orientation.

READ MORE: Canada’s criminal code doesn’t mention ‘hate crime’ — so how do we hold people accountable?

Those numbers are from a Statistics Canada report, which acknowledges that many hate crimes in Canada go unreported — so the real number of victims is higher.

And the real number of hate crimes in Canada (and beyond) is undoubtedly much higher than the instances of false claims that may gain media attention.

WATCH: Jussie Smollett released from custody after posting bond

Story continues below

Conversations surrounding fake claims of hate crimes arose this week, after Chicago police charged Empire actor Jussie Smollett for filing a false police report claiming he was the victim of racial and homophobic crime.

While the allegations against Smollett have not been proven, Chicago police said at a press conference Thursday that Smollett paid out US$3,500 to stage the attack because he wanted to “promote his career.”

Neethan Shan, who works with the Urban Alliance on Race Relations in Toronto, explained false hate-crime accusations fuel groups who are reluctant to accept the problem of hate.

WATCH: Hate crimes against Jewish community increase year over year

“Stories like this can be used as an excuse by people who do not want to acknowledge discrimination or do not want to acknowledge privilege. Stories like this can be used by systems that are reluctant to change,” Shan told Global News.

He added instances of fake hate-crime reports are “isolated and rare.”

Shan also cautioned against lumping hate-crime cases together — or emphasizing one potentially false case over numerous real ones. He noted actions of one person in a racialized or minority community can get projected on the larger community, but that doesn’t happen for non-racialized groups.

WATCH: #FirstTimeIWasCalled — Canadians share their first experience with discrimination 

“We get non-racialized folks who might have faked an illness, for example, to fundraise saying they had cancer. An incident like that is not extrapolated to further target or question the authenticity of people’s experiences.”

Several LGBTQ+ and black advocates also took to Twitter expressing similar sentiments, saying a false accusation should not take away from real instances.

READ MORE: Why it’s so hard to stop online hate before it becomes real-life violence

Washington, D.C.-based black queer advocate Preston Mitchum explained on Twitter that the conversation surrounding Smollett’s case being linked to others is “one-dimensional.”

“I really can’t believe this one-dimensional framing that one person who (still allegedly) lied is the reason harm to Black queer people will occur, or that NOW we won’t be believed. It’s honestly, truly ridiculous,” Mitchum tweeted.

I really can’t believe this one-dimensional framing that one person who (still allegedly) lied is the reason harm to Black queer people will occur, or that NOW we won’t be believed. It’s honestly, truly ridiculous.

— Preston Mitchum (@PrestonMitchum) February 21, 2019

“Y’all, where do you live when people have inherently been believed? Honestly. People will discriminate against us because they want to and have power to do so. Our nation is anti-Black and anti-LGBTQ. To place the burden on one person is harmful and disingenuous,” he continued.

Chad Griffin, who is the president of the U.S.-based LGBTQ advocacy group Human Rights Campaign, called the Smollett case “devastating & frustrating.”

Today's news about #JussieSmollett is both devastating & frustrating. But I want to ask everyone feeling angry, hurt & disappointed to channel that into productive activism – because there are thousands targeted by hate violence each year who need our help https://t.co/PHtsVsUYUN

— Chad Griffin (@ChadHGriffin) February 21, 2019

But Griffin noted that those feeling frustrated can channel their energy into creating positive change.

“But I want to ask everyone feeling angry, hurt & disappointed to channel that into productive activism – because there are thousands targeted by hate violence each year who need our help,” he tweeted.

Griffin pointed to several recent cases of violence against members of the LGBTQ+ community in America.

READ MORE: 6 steps Canadians can take when they spot hate speech online

Bernie Farber of the Canadian Anti-Hate Network made a similar call — those impacted by this story should look at how they can truly help hate-crime victims.

“Let’s look at the attention this has thrown on the issue of hate crimes at a time when we need that attention,” Farber told Global News.

“Let’s shift the focus and view this as really an opportunity to focus on the real issue.”

WATCH: What’s behind hate-fuelled crimes in the U.S?

Hate crimes in Canada and U.S.

Police-reported hate crimes in Canada have been inching up slowly for several years. In 2016, they went up by three per cent and five per cent the year before.

In 2017, the number of hate crimes went up much more dramatically — by 47 per cent. The increase was largely driven by hate crimes against Muslim, Jewish and black Canadians.

In the U.S., the FBI tracks hate crimes and found in its most recent report that there are nearly 20 such crimes in the country every day.

READ MORE: In Canada, Jews face more hate crimes, while Muslims face more violent ones

The number of hate crimes south of the border went up 17 per cent in 2017 — a total of 7,175 hate-crime incidents overall.

Of those hate crimes, 1,303 were offences based on “sexual-orientation bias,” the FBI report said.

Nearly 5,000 single-bias hate crimes were motivated by race, ethnicity or ancestry, and within those crimes, 48.8 per cent were caused by “anti-Black or African-American bias.”

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