Hate-Crimes Grossly Under-Reported | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

Hate-Crimes Grossly Under-Reported

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There were no hate crimes in Mississippi in 2005 or 2006, according to the most recent FBI statistics. Nationwide, say the stats, hate crimes rose 7.8 percent in '06, with 7,722 incidents.

Hardly, is the answer from the U.S. Department of Justice Bureau of Justice Statistics. Hate crimes stem from bias, aimed against a particular race, religion, sexual orientation, ethnicity or disability. The DoJ reports that the numbers are almost 25 times higher than the FBI reports, with annual average of 191,000 hate crimes from 2000 through 2003.

Law enforcement agencies voluntarily furnish statistics to the FBI, who compile them into their Uniform Crime Reporting stats. Hate crimes are a subset of the total numbers. The fact that reporting is voluntary explains some of the discrepancy. If police fail to record a crime as a hate crime, if departments don't report them to the FBI or report them inaccurately, the real numbers never show up in the FBI database. In Mississippi, 62 agencies report hate-crime numbers, representing 28.5 percent of the state's population. The city of Jackson does not report, and neither do about a third of law enforcement agencies, nationwide.

Failure to report can be false reporting when states turn in zero crimes for jurisdictions that simply did not report.

The DoJ report merged the FBI numbers with those of the National Criminal Victimization Survey, which reports hate crimes based on victims' perceptions and require corroborating evidence. It is a proactive survey, instead of a passive compilation.

The Southern Poverty Law Center, which monitors hate groups nationally, reported problems with the FBI's stats in 2001 in Intelligence Report magazine. In "Discounting Hate," the SPLC stated that "the national effort to document hate-motivated crime is in shambles."

"I think a few more agencies report now than they did then, but it hasn't changed that much," said "Discounting Hate" co-author Heidi Beirich.

Beyond just insufficient reporting, the FBI's numbers affect public policy. Agencies use the faulty statistics to support their need for after-school programs, for example. When a jurisdiction reports inaccurate numbers, they can't target programs or qualify for grants. As a result, there are no programs.

Congress passed the Hate Crime Statistics Act in 1990, following a wave of anti-gay violence in the late '80s. The "hate" crime designation was the first to include sexual orientation, and doing so made the label controversial from the start. As one "Discounting Hate" interviewee—a Texas police chief—put it, "I always had a problem with hate crime laws, anyhow. I mean, you don't shoot people because you love them."

But hate crimes are different. First, targeting one individual because of a bias is targeting the group, and seeing that person as its representative. Secondly, preventing hate crime requires different tactics than those for crimes involving domestic violence, for example, or drug crimes. Being able to see why crimes are being committed instead of just counting how many occur allows officials to implement effective anti-crime tactics.

"You need state-level agencies that care about hate crimes," Beirich said. In California and New Jersey, the states pressure law enforcement to take hate crime statistics seriously. Conversely, other states, such as Alabama, don't even include all of the federal definitions of target groups in their state statutes, leaving out sexual orientation.

Most recently, violence against Latinos has taken a sharp upward turn. Even looking at the FBI's woeful numbers, anti-Latino crime has risen 35 percent nationwide from 2003 to 2006. In California, the state with the largest population of Latinos, the numbers have nearly doubled. Regularly characterized with inhuman attributes—invaders, illegals, cockroaches—Latinos are under siege by those who wish to repel and exterminate them.

"People who are undocumented, when crimes happen to them they're very fearful to come forward." said Bill Chandler, Mississippi Immigrants Rights Alliance president and executive director, adding that law enforcement seems resistant to deal with anti-Latino crimes. In Mississippi, Chandler said, only Ridgeland and Canton have been responsive.

Nationwide, victims report less than 44 percent of all hate crimes to the police, according to the DoJ study. And of those reported, police validate only one in five. Given the controversy surrounding the "official" FBI numbers, it seems unconscionable that Congress has not implemented a more accurate method to report hate crime statistics.

"The FBI's numbers are considered the 'gold' standard, and it's ridiculous," Beirich said. "It's more like a 'fool's gold' standard."

The FBI did not return calls for this story.

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