The FBI’s effort to track bias crimes nationwide is gaining the cooperation of an increasing number of local law enforcement agencies, with 9,584 departments representing 75 percent of the U.S. population voluntarily submitting data to bureau’s latest report.
Because the number of agencies reporting bias crime information has not remained constant, year-to-year statistical comparisons are all but impossible, and any one year’s data is bound to be incomplete due to the voluntary nature of the reporting system. In the FBI’s most recent annual report on bias crimes, however, the bureau noted that 7,947 hate crimes were recorded during 1995, the last year for which figures are available, with nearly three of every four such crimes motivated by race or ethnicity.
Blacks were found to be the target in three out of five of the racial attacks, but members of other population groups, such as Asians and Latinos, are turning out to be the victims in an increasing number of bias offenses.
Religious bias was a factor in 16.1 percent of the offenses, with Jews overwhelmingly the most common victims. Sexual orientation was the third most frequent motive, found in 12.8 percent of the offenses.
A sampling of reports from around the country adds detail to the FBI’s statistical portrait:
¶ Black residents of Maine, who make up less than 1 percent of the state’s population, have been the group most targeted for hate crimes over the past 3½ years, accounting for about one-third of all complaints, according to the state Attorney General’s office.
¶ Hate crimes in Florida fell by 35 percent in 1995, which officials said was the largest decrease since the passage in 1990 of a state law requiring police to track the crimes. Attorney General Bob Butterworth credited greater public awareness and more aggressive enforcement by police for the decline. But while Butterworth said the statistics painted “a promising picture,” he added that the decline must be viewed with caution since only 60 police agencies in the state reported hate crimes in 1995 a 13-percent drop from the year before.
¶ At least one state, Massachusetts, moved to protect members of a class of people who don’t usually come to mind as victims of bias crime the disabled. Gov. William Weld signed legislation in July that increases penalties for crimes committed against the disabled or on the basis of sexual orientation to up to five years in prison and a $10,000 fine the same punishment as for hate crimes based on race, color, religion or nationality.
The Los Angeles Police Department was prominent among the agencies that have demonstrated an increased sensitivity to the issue of bias crimes, opening a community service office at the city’s Gay and Lesbian Center, where officers will help victims of bias crimes file complaints. Officer Lisa Phillips, who was appointed to oversee the effort, said many bias crimes go unreported because the department historically has had a bad rapport with the gay community.
As evidenced by local reports compiled by Law Enforcement News over the past year, hate crimes came in all forms, from murder to the distribution of racist leaflets:
¶ A racist message apparently directed at an Oregon state trooper of Iranian descent was spray-painted across the side of a Eugene Water & Electric Board storage shed in Walterville. The scrawl, which was visible to passing motorists, included a racial slur, the officer’s name, a swastika and a symbol of the Aryan Nations group.
¶ In North Hanover, N.J., police officials released a list of more than a dozen criminal mischief and harassment probes conducted between April 1994 and March 1996, to help the state Attorney General’s office in its investigation of a rash of bias crimes in northern Burlington County. In September, 11 people were charged with waging a harassment campaign against the town’s black community.
¶ Three Lubbock, Tex., men were sentenced to life in prison in April for killing a black man and wounding two others in what prosecutors called a hunting trip aimed at starting a race war. Investigators seized a photograph of Adolf Hitler, a swastika and a Nazi flag from the residence of one suspect.
¶ Three other Texas men were accused of stabbing a gay man 35 times in January after the group accosted him in the parking lot of a neighborhood bar in Katy. The accused killers professed membership in a little-known skinhead group called the German Peace Corps.
¶ The presence of Ku Klux Klan members in full regalia still has the power to elicit angry emotions, as witness a rally in Ann Arbor, Mich., in June that deteriorated into violence. When Klan speakers began using racial epithets, a group of counterdemonstrators rushed police headquarters, where they shouted obscenities to officers keeping a cordon between the two groups. Eventually, police had to use tear gas to disperse the crowd.
¶ The military showed itself to be simmering with racial tensions, as new facts emerged from the December 1995 murders of a black couple in Fayetteville, N.C., allegedly by two soldiers at Fort Bragg who prosecutors said were skinheads motivated by racism. Prompted by the case, the Army conducted an investigation into the efforts of hate groups to recruit soldiers. Of the 7,600 GIs who were questioned, fewer than 100 were said to be members of white supremacist groups. Army officials said that a report would probably urge the repeat of a policy allowing soldiers to have “passive involvement” in extremist groups.