Police say an alarming increase in attacks on racialized Albertans in Edmonton has left members of marginalized communities afraid to leave their homes and live their lives as they wish.
“We have communities out there living in fear,” Sgt. Gary Willits, a spokesman for the Edmonton Police Service’s Hate Crimes and Violent Extremism Unit, said Wednesday.
The numbers are increasing at “an alarming rate,” he said.
“These are people not attending their places of worship, not wearing their religious clothing, people not leaving their homes. We’re trying to increase the sense of security. We need to raise the awareness of our communities.”
Sgt. Willits discussed the spike in hate-motivated crimes at a news conference about four people who have been charged in separate attacks on Black people and other racialized Albertans.
Police said a 34-year-old man faces two counts of assault after a South Asian man wearing a turban was followed, spat on, threatened and had racial comments yelled at him in February.
A 17-year-old male also faces two counts of assault after a Black worker and a southeast Asian worker were spat on and racially slurred at a restaurant drive-thru in March.
A 39-year-old man, who has since died, had been facing charges after a gun was pointed at a Black woman and a white man who were walking with their child in a stroller in April.
And a 46-year-old man is charged with various offences after three attacks on Black men last month.
Police said in a release that 23 hate-motivated crimes were reported between January and March. Last year, police investigated 13 hate crimes in that same time frame.
Sgt. Willits said police are recommending judges consider a section of the Criminal Code that calls for increased sentencing if the four accused are found guilty and if they were motivated by hate.
Police are providing the people who were attacked trauma-informed support, he said. Investigators are looking into the ideologies of the suspects and whether they are involved in any groups, he added.
During previous investigations of hate crimes, Sgt. Willits said, some attackers have bluntly expressed their racist views toward particular groups, while others have said they didn’t remember the attack because of a mental-health issue.
It’s unclear why attacks on racialized people are on the rise, he said.
“It’s the million-dollar question ... I can say the good majority of our files do deal with dependency issues, mental health. We do see those as contributing factors.”
The COVID-19 pandemic and a general rise in intolerance around the world could be behind the increase in attacks, Sgt. Willits added.
“We have several individuals out there hurting and we’re trying to find the solution. How can we get them back contributing to society?”
This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Meta and Canadian Press News Fellowship.
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