Last week, Nicholas Tavella, a former Pennsylvania State University student, pleaded guilty to an ethnically-motivated attack on a fellow student in December 2015. Tavella was charged with felony ethnic intimidation and misdemeanor terroristic threats.
Tavella was accused of asking the fellow student if he planned on raping a girl, grabbing him by the throat, and threatening to “put a bullet to his chest.” During the altercation, Tavella questioned if the student was of “Middle Eastern” descent, and admitted that his confrontation was motivated by the student’s perceived ethnicity.
Tavella’s lawyer, Wayne Bradburn, argued that the attack was partially motivated by the Islamophobic rhetoric used by Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump. Bradburn said that media coverage of Trump’s rhetoric may have incited fear of “suspicious” individuals, as well as his “love of country” and anger of the Paris terrorist attacks, which occurred three days before the incident.
This case is one of the many examples of how rampant Islamophobia, present in political platforms and media, are often used to justify violence against Muslims and people of color. Too often, Islamophobic rhetoric, as well as rhetoric that targets marginalized groups, dehumanizes individuals within these communities. It allows such behavior to be considered acceptable and hate crimes to increase.
While such statements do not always incite this behavior, prejudice against marginalized groups is one of the main factors in a larger and more oppressive system. Let us not forget that villainizing and causing fear against certain communities encourages violent behavior. Cases, such as this one, will continue if change does not occur in our system and our mindset.