Groceries in hand, campus junior Ismael Chamu was walking home from the 99 Cents Only Store when a red Ford pickup truck driven by two white men slowed beside him — “Son-of-a-bitch wetback,” one of the men yelled before driving away.
Chamu is one of a number of UC Berkeley students who have posted about their experience with identity-based harassment in the past week. The Southern Poverty Law Center has counted more than 200 reports of hate crimes across the nation since President-elect Donald Trump’s victory Nov. 8.
In Chamu’s experience, the victims of hate crimes — offenses motivated by the offender’s prejudice — cannot avoid them.
“A lot of people with very set opinions have really strong emotions … some of which can be really problematic,” he said. “This election season has empowered those folks.”
After the incident, Chamu was in shock. He noted that this kind of behavior reminded him of growing up in South Carolina.
Chamu said that as a student of color at UC Berkeley, he has a network of support on campus. In the context of the election, however, he has noticed “a lot of turmoil.”
Lucy Zhang, a campus senior, described how her friend was hit with an egg while they walked home from Memorial Stadium about midnight Nov. 12. She said a car “filled with guys” who were “cackling and laughing” had stopped alongside them. After registering what had happened, Zhang screamed at the men in the car.
“Part of both of us wants to believe that it wasn’t (a hate crime),” Zhang said.
According to Zhang, her friend who was hit by the egg said something along the lines of “it’s because of my race” and “it’s because of Trump” after the incident as a way to laugh it off.
“I really hope that the people who did it weren’t a part of the Berkeley community,” Zhang said. “I think that our institution is bigger than that, and I don’t think hate crime has any place at Berkeley.”
Neither a UCPD nor a Berkeley Police Department spokesperson could be reached to confirm whether there has been an uptick in reported hate crimes in Berkeley.
UC Berkeley psychology professor Rodolfo Mendoza-Denton said that in the wake of Trump’s election, Americans — with the uncertainty of the political and social climate — may be unsure about how to behave.
“Informational social influence is when we look to other people to inform us about how to behave when we’re in contexts we’re unfamiliar with,” Mendoza-Denton said. “To me, it’s of very little surprise that you are getting an increase in instability and hate crimes … precisely because (people) have seen that modeled in a presidential candidate.”
Studies show that when people feel powerful, they think more simplistically and are more likely to stereotype others, said campus psychology professor Dacher Keltner. He added that in neighborhoods where white people are in the numerical majority, they are more likely to perpetrate hate crimes against minorities.
“We’ve had an unusual rise to power of someone who is bigoted and racist — at least in his rhetoric,” Keltner said. “One of the things that people are really worried about is the contagious spread of this behavior.”
Campus senior Kevin Kim witnessed a man with a foreign accent yelling misogynistic slurs at a woman on the sidewalk.
“He was definitely using Trump’s platform as an excuse or as a weapon — something he could stand on top of to condone whatever he was saying,” Kim said. “I couldn’t help but stop and yell at him. Don’t do what I did. Don’t respond with anger.”
With Americans unsure of how to behave, Mendoza-Denton said, it is heartening to see communities rally in opposition to messages of racism and misogyny.
“Right now is exactly when what authority figures say and the norms that we establish as a community become so important,” Mendoza-Denton said. “We can use (our behaviors) to affirm our values.”