AAI Joins Congressional Briefing on Hate Crime

Posted by Guest on September 12, 2018 in Blog

By Anastasia Horn

About one percent of hate crimes committed in the United States are reported in official statistics. Despite the lack of adequate data, we know that specific communities, including Arab Americans and American Muslims, currently face an increased risk of targeted violence. On September 6, 2018, Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-IL) hosted a briefing with the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC) on the need for improved hate crime data and enforcement. AAI’s Kai Wiggins joined panelists from MPAC, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), and Shoulder-to-Shoulder to discuss these issues and related policy recommendations.  

To begin, Manar Waheed of the ACLU pointed out the correlation between divisive rhetoric in our current political climate, which intensified during the 2016 presidential election, and a nationwide increase of hate crime. Manar then stated that many hate crimes, which are committed because of race, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, disability, gender, or gender identity, go unreported because victims do not feel safe alerting local police. Communities vulnerable to hate crime have often suffered discrimination, excessive surveillance, or disproportionate targeting at the hands of law enforcement. For Arab Americans and American Muslims, the current administration’s history of xenophobic rhetoric and discriminatory policies adds to this atmosphere of fear and distrust.  

Next, Hoda Hawa of MPAC highlighted certain challenges to hate crime prosecutions. One issue is that law enforcement officials often lack proper training on reporting and investigating hate crime incidents. Hoda also discussed some of the difficulties that  prosecutors face in the court room, noting that federal prosecutors do not file charges in most hate crime referrals. Furthermore, even when hate crime charges are brought, few cases result in a hate crime conviction. 

Following Hoda’s remarks, Kai Wiggins of AAI stressed the need to improve the national hate crime reporting and data collection system. Hate crime data are collected through the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting Program (UCR), which is based on voluntary submissions from law enforcement agencies across the country. The FBI publishes hate crime data received through the UCR each November in an annual report. In 2016, just ten percent of the law enforcement agencies in the United States reported hate crime incidents through the UCR. The murder of Khalid Jabara, a 37-year-old Arab American shot dead on his front porch in Tulsa, Okla., was not among the 1,776 incidents recorded in the FBI’s 2016 report. Without accurate data, advocates, policymakers, and law enforcement are less equipped to address hate crime in their communities. Kai concluded that state legislatures should pass laws requiring hate crime reporting, data collection, and specific police training. Additionally, Congress should pass legislation to incentivize hate crime reporting in underperforming agencies. 

Finally, Catherine Orsborn of Shoulder-to-Shoulder, a national interfaith organization, emphasized the importance of collective efforts to condemn hate crimes and demand accountability. Her organization works with groups across the country to counteract anti-Muslim sentiment. When it comes to the issue of data, Catherine mentioned that advocates need accurate statistics to have better footing when condemning hate crimes. To that end, Shoulder-to-Shoulder believes that interfaith movements to denounce hate crime are critical to preventing targeted violence. Catherine noted, however, that officials across all levels of government  must respond to hate crime as forcefully as local community groups. An official response would demonstrate greater accountability to the community because it shows that officials are aware of hate crimes and working toward prevention. 

Each panelist showed that despite limited data, hate crime is a major issue in the United States. Advocates must continue to speak out against hate crime and demand accountability. At the same time, state, local, and federal governments must work toward an improved response through better enforcement, reporting, data collection, and training. In a time when individuals and communities are increasingly targeted because of their identity, taking action against hate crimes is more important than ever.    

 

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