Hate crimes are on the rise. Is law enforcement ready to tackle them?
Tuesday, July 16, 2019
A recent study released by Safehome.org reveals that hate crimes reported to law enforcement rose by 22% nationally between 2013 and 2017. Safehome analyzed data from the Federal Bureau of Investigation, covering 8,500 cases reported to police during this time.
The states that saw the highest spike in hate crimes were Wyoming (with a whopping 2,200% increase), followed by Georgia, Vermont, the District of Columbia, and Delaware.
Florida ranks eighth with an increase of 102%. Reports suggest that this alarming rise may be related to the Sunshine State's increasingly serious problem with right-wing extremists. These extremist groups have accounted for 197 incidents in just 2017 and 2018, according to a study from the Anti-Defamation League's Center on Extremism.
It may come as a surprise to some, but the progressive state of Washington ranked ninth with a 78% rise in bias-motivated crime between 2013 and 2017. According to available FBI data, Seattle had one of the sharpest reported increase during this time. Between 2012 and 2018, reported hate crimes and incidents were up nearly 400 %.
While the data is shocking, the actual number of incidents experienced is probably much higher since hate crimes often go unreported.
In terms of demographic breakdown, 51% of offenders were Caucasians, while African Americans were the most targeted racial group. In terms of religious bias, Jews are most targeted at 58%, followed by Muslims at 19%.
California, for one, witnessed 126 anti-Semitic hate crimes in 2018 alone, an increase of 21% from 104 in 2017 according to a report released by the California Department of Justice (DOJ.) However, despite this increase, overall hate crimes dropped by 2.5% from 2017 to 2018 in the Golden State.
New York shows disappointing statistics as well. Its infamous crime rate has fallen, but hate crimes have risen, especially in and around New York City.
The nation's capital is not spared, either. LGBT hate crimes and crimes based on religious bias is on the rise, placing D.C. fourth in the disturbing list. On the other hand, Illinois, which has historically witnessed high crime rates, ranked 40th on the list with a decrease in such crimes.
The pervasive worlds of social media and the internet have helped promote more hatred and bias. It is now easier for extremist groups to use these platforms to organize and spread racial, religious, and anti-LGBTQ thoughts. Administrators of tech platforms say that they are trying to work hand in hand with the police to stem this rise but are struggling to contain that final escalation to violence every time.
What are law enforcement agencies doing to tackle this dangerous trend?
Law enforcement agencies admit that lack of reporting plays a significant role in their inability to stop or prevent these crimes. The police are urging people to report them so that they can get a better understanding of the scope of this issue. At this stage, they are ill-equipped to stem the flow of this hatred.
According to FBI reports, anti-LGBT hate crimes are also rising. 1,130 incidents mostly targeted towards gay men have been reported between 2014 to 2017. Crimes against black transgender women have risen as well.
According to experts, however, The FBI data and the current data collection for LGBTQ hate crimes is flawed. There are massive discrepancies between the actual number and the much larger figure of self-reported incidents. Since it is based on officially reported incidents, it often overlooks incidents like the murder of Heather Heyer in Charlottesville, leading to doubts about the accuracy of federal hate crime data.
The National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS), offers a more accurate picture. The household-based survey administered by the U.S. Census Bureau operates as a self-reported database and says that Americans experience closer to 200,000 hate crimes each year. This staggering number and a sobering thought about the violent times we live in.
Why are most hate crimes not reported?
Many people who experience hate crimes do not report them because they don't feel sufficiently protected by the law, especially in smaller or rural communities. The current political rhetoric has sparked more hatred than we anticipated, and a larger number of hateful people are acting as potential catalysts for increasing violence.
Under the 2009 Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, hate crimes motivated by bias against sexual orientation and gender identity are illegal. But state laws aren't as clear, and local and state law enforcement agencies are not required to report hate crimes. This makes it easier for perpetrators to get away with such crimes. The NCVS reports that there are entire cities, like Miami, that don't report any hate crimes. Of course, they do occur.
Law enforcement is encouraging people to come forward and report. Hope for improvement and safety lies in accurate and increased reporting. The imperfect data not only prevents them from carrying out proper crime fighting campaigns but also affects any federal funding on crime prevention.
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