We all know that we are living in volatile times, and the FBI’s recently released data on the national incidence of crimes motivated by bias (in other words, hate crimes) reinforces that perception. This report showed a very unsettling increase in hate crimes since last year. FBI records show 6,121 incidents were reported by police in 2016. Compare this to the 2015 data, when 5,850 incidents were reported. We see a nearly 7 percent increase which tells us that Americans are demonstrating their prejudices in public in growing numbers.
While 7 percent may not seem particularly alarming, a breakdown of the character of these crimes motivated by bias does give cause for alarm. Approximately 58 percent of these attacks were motivated by racial bias, about half of which were directed against African Americans. 21 percent of the crimes reported were motivated by the victim’s religion; in more than 50 percent of the incidents the victims were Jewish, and a quarter were anti-Muslim.
The sharp increase in the number of hate crimes aimed at Muslims is painful to see, but not a surprise given the inflammatory anti-Muslim rhetoric coming regularly from our president since his campaign for the office first began. Hate crimes against Muslims jumped 67 percent in 2015 and again rose about 20 percent last year. Racially motivated crimes against Arabs grew 38 percent over 2015. 2016 has the highest number of hate crimes targeting Muslims since the 9/11 terrorist attacks in 2001. Crimes attacking transgender people went up 44 percent. Although the FBI does not present conclusions in its report, before he left office Director James Comey commented that “…hate crimes are [very] different from other crimes. They strike at the heart of one’s identity.” Hate crimes are meant to humiliated and intimidate, as well as physically hurt a victim.
Hate crimes reveal an ugliness that is hard for us to admit and address as a society. But in order to begin to slow the rise of these attacks, we must first work to collect reliable and uniform data. Reporting criteria is not at all uniform from state to state, and neither is the thoroughness of the reporting. Aside from the reluctance of victims to report hate crimes, prosecutors find proving hateful intent is sometimes difficult, as intent is not easily demonstrated even though much of our criminal justice system is based upon doing so.
This brings me to House Bill 10, which I have filed for the 2018 session. The current Virginia Code defines ‘hate crime’ as a crime with a restricted motivation: racial, religious or ethnic bias.
Clearly these motivations do not include many of the biases driving Americans to shockingly discriminatory violence today. Therefore, I have updated the description of those likely to be discriminated against to read “..harassment or violence motivated by racial, religious, gender, disability, gender identity, sexual orientation or ethnic animosity.” This broadened language applies to both the crime committed and to the clarity of police reports. We cannot adequately address the current groundswell of hate crimes unless we collect data that reflects reality and report criminal charges accordingly.
Delegate Kory represents the 38th District in the Virginia House of Delegates. She may be emailed at [email protected]