PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — A national group is calling on law enforcement to investigate whether there was any anti-Muslim bias behind the Friday shooting of a man outside a Providence mosque, as data shows hate crimes are soaring in Rhode Island.
Providence police have not said yet whether they are treating the Friday shooting of a 52-year-old man as a hate crime, as the suspect remained on the loose Friday evening.
“We know that the gentleman who was shot is affiliated with the mosque, and so we’re investigating all that right now,” Police Chief Col. Oscar Perez said Friday.
Mosque leaders said the shooter had been waiting outside the mosque for nearly a half hour before firing three rounds at the man, who was setting up a table to sell goods in the front outside. The victim sustained a single gunshot wound, but is expected to survive.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations, a national Muslim civil rights and advocacy group, is now calling on police to investigate whether the shooting was tied to what they describe as a surge of anti-Muslim and anti-Arab hate that’s flared with the escalation of the Israel-Hamas war.
“Because we have witnessed an unprecedented spike in anti-Muslim incidents nationwide in recent weeks, we urge local, state and federal law enforcement authorities to investigate a possible bias motive for this attack,” CAIR spokesperson Ibrahim Hooper said in a statement.
Rhode Island is experiencing its own surge in hate crimes this year. R.I. State Police data shows there have been 31 hate crimes charged against people through the first ten months of the year, which is already 63% more than all of 2022. The data shows about seven of the 31 hate crimes this year stemmed from reasons tied to anti-religion.
CAIR last week released data showing a 216% surge in complaints, including incidents of bias, reported to its offices since the start of the crisis. The FBI released a report last month showing record-breaking hate crimes against Jewish Americans in 2022.
But hate crime statistics are a murky indicator of overall hate activity across the country, according to advocates. They highlight that people often don’t report instances of hate to law enforcement. And prosecutors have a difficult time convicting people who are charged, in part because the current state law makes it incredibly difficult to prove a crime stems specifically from a bias based on religion, race, ethnicity, gender and sexual orientation.
Despite the rise in hate crimes, however, all violent crimes — with the exception of homicides — are on the decline across Rhode Island for a third year in a row, according to crime data. As of Nov. 5, shootings in the capital city were up slightly to 85 compared to 80 at the same point last year.
Tim White contributed to this report.