Posted on May 16, 2015 in Arab American Institute
Standing against bias
Signs indicate that hate crimes are on the rise in American communities. In recent years, the United States has suffered a spate of incidents garnering national media coverage, including: the 2015 murder of nine African American worshippers at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina; the 2015 murder of three Arab American Muslim students in Chapel Hill, NC; the 2016 murder of Arab American Khalid Jabara on the front porch of his Tulsa, Oklamhoma home; and the 2017 murder of two white men on a train in Portland, OR, who had come to the defense of passengers facing harassment at the hands of a white supremacist. The violent march of white supremacists in Charlottesville, Virginia in August of 2017 was a public display of the growth of hate in America. Indeed, the most recent data indicate an overall increase in hate crimes: a 6.8% increase from 2014 to 2015, and another 5% increase from 2015-2016. In 2016, nearly 60% of hate crimes reported to the FBI were based on ethnicity, and over 20% were based on religious affiliation.
A hate crime is a criminal offense against a person or property that is motivated by an offender’s bias against a race, religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, disability, or other protected characteristic. A hate crime law is a law that imposes a tougher penalty on criminals who target their victims based on the aforementioned biases.
The federal government does not impose mandatory reporting of hate crime incidents, leading to the failure of many jurisdictions to report hate crimes at all. This causes significant and consequential underreporting of incidents. A report from the Department of Justice cited nearly two-thirds of all hate crimes go unreported. While there are federal hate crime laws, and the Department of Justice has enforcement authority, the laws remain limited and leave significant opportunity for local action. Local hate crime protection is three-fold: (1) individual state legislatures should pass their own hate crime laws that protect the diverse communities in their state; (2) local law enforcement agencies should be better trained to investigate incidents as hate crimes; and (3) state attorneys must prosecute these crimes as a hate crime when appropriate.
While the vast majority of states have some hate crime laws on the books, many are under-inclusive, ignoring the victimization of key communities targeted by hate. Moreover, others do not feature important aspects of model hate crime legislation, such as enhanced penalties, restorative justice, required diversity and hate crimes reporting trainings, and mandatory data reporting from local agencies to both state and federal officials.
As part of AAI's Advocacy Roadmap - we are organizing around THREE LOCAL ACTIONS TO STAND AGAINST HATE CRIMES:
STAND FOR STRONGER HATE CRIME LAWS TO COMBAT INSTANCES OF HATE
Target: State legislators and state human rights commissions.
(1) Strengthen hate crime laws. A strong hate crime law includes a penalty enhancement for bias-motivated crimes that target an individual based on their race, religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, or disability. Many states either do not have hate crime laws, or have a law that does not protect all of these classes.
(2) Mandate that hate crimes are tracked and reported. By mandating reporting, the federal hate crimes data will be improved, and we can better understand and address the trend of increased hate crimes. If your jurisdiction has not already done so, urge the transition to the National Incident-Based Reporting System (NIBRS) for reporting hate crime data to the federal government.
(3) Require law enforcement officers be trained to better recognize instances of hate and to better interact with victims of hate. It is critical that police officers know how to identify, respond to, and investigate incidents of hate. Ask to review your county, state, and city police department’s trainings, and offer suggestions for improvement. Require state-wide standardized trainings to avoid differing police department responses.
(4) Organize phone calls, letter campaigns, and in-person meetings with your state legislators to discuss how to improve your state’s hate crime law(s).
ADVOCATE FOR THE IMPROVED ENFORCEMENT OF HATE CRIME LAWS TO SEND A STRONG MESSAGE TO OFFENDERS AND VICTIMS ALIKE
Target: U.S. House of Representatives, U.S. Senate, state legislators, federal and state attorneys.
(1) Share personal accounts of the impact of hate crimes on front-line impacted communities, like Arab Americans. It is important to give a voice and a face to how hate crimes impact you, your family, your friends, your community, and the nation.
(2) Ask for clarity and conversation about how the legal requirements for charging an act as a hate crime are applied. Not every crime that appears to constitute a biased motivated crime is charged as a hate crime. It is important to advocate for hate crime charges, and to also listen to how and why charges are brought forward.
(3) Always reiterate the importance of prosecuting a hate crime as such. Educate the attorneys on the consequences of their inaction, which could generate mistrust within the local community, and make victims more unwilling to report incidents.
(4) Organize meetings between local community leaders and the federal and state attorneys in your jurisdiction.
STAND FOR MINIMIZING BIASED AND PREJUDICED PRACTICES
Target: State attorneys and local law enforcement.
(1) Require law enforcement officers be trained in cultural awareness. Officers must be able to recognize the cultural differences between minority groups within their communities to better address their specific needs as it pertains to law enforcement, especially among groups most frequently targeted by hate crimes.
(2) Organize meetings with your state attorney and local law enforcement to discuss the importance of culturally-accurate and sensitive training materials. Provide any feedback or accounts of bias to ensure police departments are meeting nationally accepted standards.
See AAI’s Report Hate Project for resources for approaching federal and state attorneys.