Posted by Jacob Britton on October 11, 2019 at 10:30 AM

At a time of increased bipartisanship, members of Congress from both major political parties can at least agree on one thing: to improve the federal response to hate crime, we need better data. With the introduction of bipartisan legislation named after hate crime victims Khalid Jabara and Heather Heyer, and with the support of the broader civil rights community, Congress has the opportunity to get things done.

Last month, on Sept. 25, 2019, the Arab American Institute joined a bipartisan congressional coalition, leading national civil rights organizations, and the families of Khalid Jabara and Heather Heyer to call for the passage of the Khalid Jabara and Heather Heyer National Opposition to Hate, Assault, and Threats to Equality Act (Jabara-Heyer NO HATE Act) (S. 2043|H.R. 3545). At a press conference outside the U.S. Capitol building, members of both major political parties, including bill sponsors Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Representative Don Beyer (D-VA-8), and original cosponsor Representative Pete Olson (R-TX-22), said that it is imperative to improve hate crime reporting and data collection.

Speaking alongside the members of Congress were relatives of Khalid Jabara and Heather Heyer, victims of senseless acts of violence whose murders were prosecuted under hate crime statutes but not recorded in official statistics. Standing next to her brother Rami, Victoria Jabara spoke movingly about their brother Khalid and the pain of losing a loved one to hate crime. She also spoke of the need for better data. “Until all hate crimes are accurately reported and tracked, and an effective response is mounted,” she said, “lives like Khalid’s and Heather’s will continue to be cut short.” Susan Bro, the mother of Heather Heyer, echoed these sentiments as she spoke about the loss of her daughter, while driving the point home about the need for better data. She said, “You don't take your child to the doctor or your car to the mechanic without analyzing symptoms, and we don't even know all the symptoms of hate crimes. We don't know how many occur; there are huge gaps as illustrated by Khalid's death and Heather's death not being reported.”

In addition to bipartisan members of Congress and the victims’ families, representatives from major civil rights organizations joined the call for improved reporting and data collection, including AAI Executive Director Maya Berry. “Behind every missing datapoint is a name, a family, a community,” said Berry. “We must say the names, support the families, and elevate the communities of those targeted by hate. Improving our method of hate crime reporting and data collection is the necessary first step. We are indebted to the families of Khalid Jabara and Heather Heyer, the members of Congress leading this effort, and our civil rights partners.”

Almost thirty years ago, Congress passed the Hate Crime Statistics Act with overwhelming bipartisan support. Although the current political moment has perhaps shifted the federal legislative landscape, politics and partisanship are no excuse. Currently, the House companion bill to the Jabara-Heyer NO HATE Act has perfect bipartisan support, with four Republican cosponsors. Now is the time for members of Congress to come together and advance a commonsense legislative solution to a pressing issue. Better data on hate crime is needed. To paraphrase Susan Bro, you can’t diagnose a problem when you don’t even have an accurate list of symptoms.

 

Jacob Britton is a Fall 2019 Intern with the Arab American Institute.