For Immediate Release: November 23, 2009
(New York November 23, 2009) The Federal Bureau of Investigation today released a report for the year 2008 showing the highest number of hate crimes against blacks, Jews, and gay men and lesbians since 2001. Overall, the report documented a slight increase in the incidence of all hate crimes reported throughout the nation last year. Human Rights First states the findings underscore the need for implementation of laws and policies designed to combat these vicious attacks.
The overall number of reported hate crime incidents in the United States increased by just over 2 percent, rising from 7,624 reported incidents in 2007 to 7,783 in 2008. Antiblack incidents jumped more than 8 percent, from 2,658 incidents in 2007 to 2,876 in 2008. Antisemitic incidents rose by 4.5 percent and incidents motivated by sexual orientation were up 2.5 percent. Hate crimes targeting Hispanics, which have risen by more than 30 percent since 2003, dropped in 2008, down from 595 to 561. As in 2007, the highest number of murders (5 out of 7 total) were motivated by bias based on sexual orientation.
“The numbers don’t lie. Hate crime remains a serious problem in the United States,” said Human Rights First’s Paul LeGendre. “State and federal authorities must act now to fully implement the new hate crime-fighting tools contained within the recently enacted Mathew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crime Prevention Act. These valuable resources give state and local authorities more power to stop these violent attacks and contribute to more peaceful communities.”
The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, signed into law by President Obama in October 2009, strengthens existing laws by giving the Department of Justice the power to investigate and prosecute bias-motivated violence. It provides the DOJ with jurisdiction over crimes of violence where the perpetrator has selected the victim because of the person’s actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or disability. It also makes grants available to state and local communities to train law enforcement officers or assist in state and local investigations and prosecutions of bias-motivated crimes.
While the FBI statistics released today provide the clearest picture available of the incidence of hate crime in the United States, it is likely that many incidents go unrecorded by law enforcement. Despite an increase in the number of agencies that participate in the hate crime data collection program (13,690, up 3.4 percent from 13,241 in 2007), far fewer agencies (2,145, up nearly 6 percent from 2,025 in 2007), actually reported any hate crimes in their jurisdiction. Some 4,000 police jurisdictions still do not participate in the voluntary program.
Additionally, the underreporting of hate crimes to law enforcement agencies remains a problem. “We must keep in mind that underreporting presents a challenge in terms of our ability to see the full extent of the problem and to ensure that offenders are brought to justice,” LeGendre noted. “In the United States, for example, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) persons and people of Hispanic origin are among the least likely to report attacks. Community outreach and efforts to address victims’ mistrust of law enforcement can help to address the challenges underreporting creates.”
Reporting from nongovernmental monitors can help to create a fuller picture of the problem. For example, the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs (NCAVP) and 35 of its member organizations across the country reported on 29 murders in 2008 that were motivated by sexual orientation or gender identity bias, an increase of 28 percent over 2007 and the highest figure recorded by that group since 1999.
Human Rights First’s own reporting finds hate crime on the rise across North America, Europe, the former Soviet Union, and indeed across many parts of the globe. The New York-based rights group looks at hate crime as a human rights concern that governments need to take more seriously.
“Hate crime is a global problem, but the concept is new and misunderstood in many countries. The U.S., with its long history of addressing hate crime, should lead global efforts to respond to this serious human rights concern,” concluded LeGendre. “In order to do that effectively, it is vital to continue to make progress on curtailing hate crime at home. One important step going forward would be for the Department of Justice to take steps to enhance hate crime reporting by local jurisdictions, targeting agencies that have not participated, have underreported, or have reported zero hate crimes in the past.”