Posted by Tess Waggoner on March 29, 2019 in Blog

On Friday, March 29, 2019, the Virginia Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights held a public briefing seeking to examine hate crimes in the state. AAI Policy Analyst Kai Wiggins provided written and oral testimony to the Committee.

Following opening marks by Susan Bro, the mother of Heather Heyer and President and Chairman of her eponymous memorial foundation, Wiggins participated in a panel that included Joe Platania, Charlottesville's Commonwealth Attorney, Mary B. McCord, former Acting Assistant Attorney General for National Security and Professor of Law Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection Georgetown School of Law, and Barbara A. Oudekerk, a statistician from the U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics Victimization Statistics Unit.

During his testimony, Wiggins provided a general overview of the national hate crime reporting and data collection system before turning to the present legal framework in Virginia to address, prevent, and respond to hate crime and historical hate crime data in the commonwealth.

Wiggins highlighted that:

“According to the state police, 207 hate crimes were reported in Virginia in 2017. While the [department's] report provides breakdowns according to offense and bias motivation, agency-specific data are not provided. As a result of a public records request, we discovered that the Charlottesville Police Department reported no hate crimes between August 10 and 12, 2017, coinciding with the now-infamous “Unite the Right” rally and the killing of Heather Heyer. Although we reached out to the Charlottesville Police Department in regard to this apparent oversight, the response we received was inconclusive. Given they were omitted from state UCR hate crime statistics, the events in Charlottesville were not reflected in the federal government’s annual hate crime report.”

Members of the Committee were visibly shocked to learn of AAI’s discovery from last year: that a number of high-profile hate crime incidents of recent years were not reported, not only in federal hate crime data, but at the local levels as well. During the briefing, Wiggins gave voice to the case of Khalid Jabara, an Arab American whose death in a horrific hate crime sparked AAI’s ongoing research on hate crime data collection and reporting. He used the incident as an illustrative example to argue for a comprehensive approach which takes into account,

the intersecting, multi-scalar factors that might affect the nature and extent of hate crime reporting in particular jurisdictions: a centralized federal program collects, but does not require, hate crime data from state and local agencies under congressional mandate; these agencies must answer to different state laws that require, incentivize, or generally promote the provision of hate crime data; and these agencies have also adopted different policies, not to mention institutional cultures or attitudes, toward hate crime and hate crime reporting.”

The testimony provided for this hearing was given as part of a larger effort by the Arab American Institute Foundation to better understand how the lack of accurate hate crime reporting impacts communities.

Our 2018 report, Underreported, Under Threat: Hate Crime in the United States and the Targeting of Arab Americans, identifies target areas for improvement and provides state-based recommendations. Complete with ratings for each state based on its overall response, this resource guide can be used to empower readers throughout the United States to advocate for a better response to hate crime in their communities. For more on AAI’s hate crime work, please consult the resources compiled on our website.

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