Hate crimes on the rise

Hate crime incidents rose nearly 8 percent last year, the FBI reported Monday, as civil rights advocates increasingly take to the streets to protest what they call official indifference to intimidation and attacks against blacks and other minorities.

Police across the nation reported 7,722 criminal incidents in 2006 targeting victims or property as a result of bias against a race, religion, sexual orientation, ethnic or national origin or physical or mental disability. That was up 7.8 percent from 7,163 incidents reported in 2005.

More than half the incidents were motivated by racial prejudice, but the report did not even pick up all the racially motivated incidents last year.

Although the noose incidents and beatings among students at Jena, La., high school occurred in the last half of 2006, they were not included in the report. Only 12,600 of the nation’s more than 17,000 local, county, state and federal police agencies participated in the hate crime reporting program in 2006 and neither Jena nor LaSalle Parish, in which the town is located, were among the agencies reporting.

Nevertheless, the Jena incidents, and a subsequent rash of noose and other racial incidents around the country, have spawned civil rights demonstrations that culminated last week at Justice Department headquarters here. The department said it investigated the Jena incident but decided not to prosecute because the federal government does not typically bring hate crime charges against juveniles.

Organizers said 100 busloads of protesters joined Friday’s march here. In September, an estimated 20,000 protesters marched through Jena. On Nov. 3, hundreds of protesters marched through downtown Charleston, W. Va., to urge prosecutors to add hate crime charges against six white people charged in the beating, torture and sexual assault of a 20-year-old black woman who was discovered Sept. 8 after several days of alleged captivity in a rural trailer.

The Jena case began in August 2006 after a black student sat under a tree known as a gathering spot for white students. Three white students later hung nooses from the tree. They were suspended by the school but not prosecuted. Six black teenagers, however, were charged by LaSalle Parish prosecutor Reed Walters with attempted second-degree murder of a white student who was beaten unconscious in December 2006. The charges have since been reduced to aggravated second-degree assault, but civil rights protesters have complained that no charges were filed against the white students who hung the nooses.

“The FBI report confirms what we have been saying for many months about the severe increase in hate crimes,” said the Rev. Al Sharpton, who organized Friday’s march. “What is not reported, however, is the lack of prosecution and serious investigation by the Justice Department to counter this increase in hate crimes.” Sharpton called for Attorney General Michael Mukasey to meet with members of the Congressional Black Caucus and civil rights leaders to discuss this enforcement.

Justice Department spokesman Brian Roehrkasse noted that Mukasey praised the civil rights movement at his confirmation hearings and plans over the next several months to meet “with a number of groups and individuals who have an interest in or concerns about the work” of the department. Roehrkasse also noted that federal prosecutors convicted a record 189 defendants of civil rights violations in the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30.

The Justice Department says it is actively investigating a number of noose incidents at schools, workplaces and neighborhoods around the country. It says “a noose is a powerful symbol of hate and racially motivated violence” recalling the days of lynchings of blacks and that it can constitute a federal civil rights offense under some circumstances.

The FBI report does not break out the number of noose incidents but the two most frequent hate crimes in 2006 were property damage or vandalism, at 2,911 offenses, and intimidation, at 2,046 offenses. There were 3 murders, 6 rapes, 860 aggravated assaults, 1,447 simple assaults and 41 arsons. Other offenses included robbery, burglary, larceny, and motor vehicle theft.

The 7,722 hate crime incidents involved 9,080 specific criminal offenses, include 5,449 against individuals, 3,593 against property and 38 classified as against society at large. A single incident can be aimed at both people and property.

Since the FBI began collecting hate crime data in 1991, the most frequent motivation has been racial bias, accounting for 51.8 percent of incidents in 2006, down from the 54.7 in 2005.

Also in 2006, religious bias was blamed for 18.9 percent of the incidents; sexual orientation bias for 15.5 percent, and ethnic or national origin — for 12.7 percent.

“This FBI report confirms … that hate crimes protections for the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community are long overdue,” said Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign, a civil rights group. Solmonese called on Congress to pass pending legislation that would expand the federal hate crime statute to cover crimes motivated by sexual orientation. The law currently covers only crimes based on race, color, religious or national origin.

Lack of full participation by the more than 17,000 police agencies around the nation somewhat undermines year-to-year comparisons.

For instance, in 2004, 12,711 agencies reported 7,649 incidents. In 2005, only 12,417 agencies reported and incidents dropped 6 percent to 7,163. But in 2006, agencies reporting rose to 12,620 and incidents climbed 7.8 percent to 7,722.

In 2006, police identified 7,330 offenders; 58.6 percent white, 20.6 percent black, 12.9 percent race unknown and the rest other races. Thirty-one percent of incidents occurred near residences; 18 percent on roads; 12.2 percent at colleges or schools, 6.1 percent in parking lots or garages, 3.9 percent at churches, synagogues or temples, and the remainder elsewhere.


On the Net:

FBI report: http://www.fbi.gov/page2/nov07/hatecrime111907.html