Religious hate crimes are on the rise
Government reviewing how to best protect targeted religious minorities
WASHINGTON—Hate crimes against minority faiths spiked 86 percent in the last 12 months—even as analysts believe many incidents continue to go unreported.
On Tuesday, the Senate Judiciary Committee sought answers from civil rights leaders and the Trump administration about the lack of reporting and why religious minorities—particularly Jewish and Muslim Americans—are a growing target.
“Religious hate crimes against Muslims are the fastest growing category,” said committee chairman Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa. “Fear for practicing one’s religion should never happen in this country. This problem has been growing for some time, and is not new.”
FBI data indicates hate crimes against Muslims rose 67 percent between 2014 and 2015. But Jewish Americans continue to be the most targeted for hate crimes. In the first quarter of 2017, statistics show 541 reported anti-Semitic incidents—including 161 bomb threats, an increase of 127 percent from this time last year.
Grassley said religiously motivated hate crimes should always require a government response. Federal lawmakers and the Trump administration need to find ways to empower local communities to better report and prosecute such instances, he said.
But according to Eric Treene, special counsel to the U.S. Department of Justice’s civil rights division on religious discrimination, part of the problem is that many local communities don’t report hate crimes to the FBI.
“The FBI hate crime statistics are useful in identifying trends, but they rely on voluntary reporting by state and local law enforcement agencies, and are only as accurate as the identification and reporting processes that law enforcement agencies put into place and implement with all of their officers,” Treene said, noting five states don’t report hate crimes from any jurisdiction.
Based on polling data from The Bureau of Justice Statistics, hate crimes could be far more prevalent than FBI crime data suggests, Treene added. Of the 18,000 law enforcement agencies in the country, only a small percentage consistently report complete hate crime data to the FBI. About 3,000 don’t report any hate crime figures at all.
Hate crimes make up 4 percent of all violent crime in the United States. Race-related crimes are most common, followed by religiously motivated incidents. But the FBI also recognizes as hate crimes targeted threats or attacks against individuals based on their nationality, gender, age, or sexual orientation.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., said hate crimes are particularly concerning in her home state, which saw a 78 percent increase in crimes against Muslims last year. She said the FBI reported about 5,000 hate crimes within the United States in 2016, but due to inaccurate data, Feinstein said that number could be as high as 300,000.
Last year, the Justice Department provided training to more than 1,400 law enforcement agencies across the country on how to recognize and report hate crimes. Treene said accurate reporting is important to allocate the correct number of resources, but the agency already recognizes a religious hate crime problem and is deploying staff and resources to counter it.
“What we’ve found is those who hate aren’t terribly discriminative of their victims,” Treene said. “If someone is angry at Muslims they will attack Sikhs, Middle-Easterners—people who look different.”
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