Thursday, November 26, 2009

7281: No Hate For Hate Crimes…?


Hate Crimes Spike: Religion, Race, Sexual Orientation Are Main Targets

By David Gibson

Conservative religious leaders were some of the sharpest opponents of the federal legislation passed in October that expanded federal hate crimes law to include protections for homosexuals.

But during the debate, none of them raised the idea of revoking the existing protections for religious victims under the law. And it seems unlikely that even those few religious leaders who think hate crimes laws are unnecessary would want to raise the subject now in light of new statistics showing attacks based on the religion of the victim rose nearly 9 percent in 2008 over the previous year. That is the highest jump across all major categories, according to FBI hate crime statistics released Monday.

Following close behind religiously motivated hate crimes were racially motivated attacks against African-American targets, which rose more that 8 percent in 2008 -- the year that saw the first African-American in history secure a major party nomination, and then win the general election to become the first black president. The rise in anti-black crimes—from 2,658 in 2007 to 2,876 in 2008—contrasts with a decline in attacks against whites, from 749 in 2007 down to 716 in 2008.

As has been the case for several years, racially motivated attacks account for about half of all bias crimes (51.3 percent) and religiously motivated attacks were next at 19.5 percent, followed by crimes linked to sexual orientation, at 16.7 percent of all attacks. The FBI said 11.5 percent of hate crimes (894) were motivated by ethnicity or national origin, with about two-thirds of those against Hispanic targets. That overall number was down significantly from 2007, when 1,007 such crimes were investigated.

Overall, hate crimes rose to their highest levels since 2001, when a spike in anti-Islamic incidents following the 9/11 attacks pushed the annual total over 9,000. For 2008, the total number of bias crimes was 7,783, a two percent rise from 2007. Most offenses (5,542) were classified as crimes against persons; acts of “intimidation,” such as harassment, accounted for 48.8 percent of crimes against persons, simple assaults for 32.1 percent, and aggravated assaults for 18.5 percent. There were seven murders. The rest of the incidents were classified as “offenses against property,” such as arson and vandalism.

The number of incidents based on sexual orientation increased slightly in 2008, but the number of lesbian, gay or transgender victims (each incident can have more than one victim) rose by 11 percent, the third consecutive year that figure has risen.

”We have to prosecute each hate crime to the fullest extent of the law, but we also need to get at the roots,” said Joe Solmonese, head of Human Rights Campaign, a leading gay rights advocacy group. “When we don’t know each other as human beings, ignorance breeds misunderstanding, which breeds hate, which too often this year led to violence. We have to keep fighting the prejudices and stereotypes that underlie these acts.”

The breakdown in religiously motivated crimes shows several interesting trends—though the consistent reality is that Jews and Jewish institutions continue to account for two-thirds of religiously motivated attacks, even though Jews account for less than 2 percent of the U.S. population.

”Hate violence in America is a serious national problem that shows little sign of slowing,” Robert G. Sugarman, national chair of the Anti-Defamation league, and Abraham H. Foxman, ADL national director, said in a joint statement. “While the increase in the number of hate crimes may be partially attributed to improved reporting, the fact that these numbers remain elevated—particularly the significant rise in the number of victims selected on the basis of religion or sexual orientation—should be of concern to every American.”

Interestingly, incidents classified as “anti-Islamic” dropped slightly, from 115 in 2007 to 105 in 2008. That is down from nearly 600 attacks in 2001, the bulk of those in the aftermath of Sept. 11.

But bias crimes against the general category of “other religions” jumped last year from 130 to 191. Those other religions would include Sikhs and Hindus, for example, groups that are becoming increasingly prominent in American society.

Crimes against Catholics or Catholic targets also jumped, from 61 to 75 in 2008. Bill Donohue, president of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, told USA Today the increase could be tied to the church’s increasingly vocal role in debates on issues such as abortion and gay marriage.

”Unfortunately it spills over into violence,” Donohue said, adding that he thinks it’s going to get worse. “I’ve never seen our country so culturally divided and so polarized … These issues are not going away.”

The number and breadth of incidents could rise after next year since the hate crimes law that President Obama signed last month—the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act—requires local authorities to track bias crimes more closely and provides federal resources to investigate those crimes.

In the 2008 survey, more law enforcement agencies than ever (13,690) provided data, but just 15 percent of them reported a bias crime and nearly 85 percent reported no hate crimes in their jurisdictions. More than 4,000 agencies did not participate, though that number is likely to decline in the wake of the new federal law requiring greater compliance.

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