It’s a high-profile Senate race that found itself surrounded in racial tensions, after Republican Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith made controversial comments to a group of supporters saying, “If he invited me to a public hanging, I'd be on the front row.”
Hyde-Smith called it an exaggerated form of expression and apologized to anyone she offended. But in a state with a troubled past, some saw the comments as racist.
Then, on Monday, the day before the Mississippi election, someone hung several nooses outside the state capitol and left signs, including one that read “We’re hanging nooses to remind people that times haven’t changed.”
“I think the controversy over the Senate race in Mississippi is a microcosm over the debates we’re having about race nationally,” says Brian Levin, with the Center for the Study of Hate & Extremism.
Also this week, the trial started for the man accused of killing a woman and hurting dozens of others after he rammed his car into a crowd of people protesting a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville.
“I think this political polarization has also bled over into an increase in hate crimes,” says Levin.
Levin, who studies hate crimes, says the country has seen an increase the past three years in a row, given a recent spike in hate crimes, including the attack on a synagogue that killed 11 people and the apparent racially motivated murders of two African Americans outside a Kentucky grocery store. Levin predicts the trend could continue.
“We might very well see, for the rest of the country for 2018 when the FBI releases their data, a fourth consecutive year,” Levin explains. “And I don’t think we’ve seen that in the over quarter century that we’ve been tracking hate crime data in the United States, indicating there is something awry in our society.”