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Reported hate crimes are down in Minnesota — but that’s not the full picture

This weekend, the Twin Cities will host its annual Pride Festival at Loring Park, long an epicenter of the area’s gay community.

For the LGBT community in the United States, there’s a lot to celebrate: Last year, the Supreme Court made same-sex marriage legal in all 50 U.S. states. But there’s still a lot to fight for, too, less than a month after the worst mass shooting in modern U.S. history killed 49 people at a gay nightclub in Orlando, which the Federal Bureau of Investigation called an act of terrorism and a hate crime.

According to the FBI, a hate crime, also called a bias crime, is a “criminal offense against a person or property motivated in whole or in part by an offender’s bias against a race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, ethnicity, gender, or gender identity.”

Some groups in the U.S. — especially people in the LGBT community — are disproportionately targeted by hate crimes, given their share of the population, according to a study by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

It found that LGBT people were targeted by hate crimes reported to the FBI at more than 8 times the rate the size of their population would suggest they would be. For Jews, that rate was 3.5 times that expected rate, for blacks, 3.2 times, Muslims 1.9 times, Latinos 0.6 times and whites 0.2 times.

What do those stats look like for Minnesota?

Targeted by race, religion, sexual identity

Between 2010 and 2014, there were nearly 600 suspected Minnesota hate crimes reported to the FBI: 319 believed to be motivated by the victim’s race, 114 by sexual orientation, 77 by religion, 75 by ethnicity and four by disability. Some of those crimes likely had multiple victims.

Under Minnesota law, all peace officers must report crimes believed by police or a victim to be motivated by a bias including race, religion, national origin, sex, age, sexual orientation or disability to the state.  The Bureau of Criminal Apprehension reports Minnesota hate crimes to the FBI.

Between 2012 and 2014, the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, counted 94 victims of sexual orientation-motivated bias crimes. Sixty percent were gay men, and 13 percent were lesbian women. One person believed to be victimized because of transgender gender identity was reported to the state in 2013.

The majority of victims in suspected race-related bias crimes reported by Minnesota police between 2012-14 were black people, while Jews and Muslims were most often victims in anti-religion hate crimes.

Bias crime victims targeted for race or ethnicity in Minnesota, 2012-14
Of 271 hate-crime victims believed have been targeted based on race or ethnicity, black people were most frequently targeted.
Source: Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension
Bias crimes victims targeted for religion in Minnesota, 2012-14
Of 68 hate-crime victims believed to be targeted based on religion, Jewish people were most often targeted.
Source: Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension
Bias crimes victims targeted for sexual orientation or gender in Minnesota, 2012-14
Of 94 victims believed to be targeted based on sexual orientation or gender identity, gay men were targeted more frequently than other groups.
Source: Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension

In 2014, vandalism, simple assault (a lesser assault charge used, for instance, in the case of a person striking or trying to strike another person), and intimidation (causing a person to fear harm) were the most commonly reported bias-related offenses in Minnesota, and offenses occurred most often at residences and on highways, roads, alleys, streets and sidewalks.

Meanwhile, characteristics most often associated with committing suspected hate crimes in Minnesota were being white, male and between the ages of 11 and 20.

As in the rest of the U.S., the number of bias crimes reported to the FBI annually in Minnesota has fallen in recent years, from 307 cases in 1995 to 103 last year.

Bias crimes in Minnesota reported to the FBI, 1999–2014
Hate crime trends follow general crime trends, which in most parts of the U.S. have been on the decline in recent years. Note: Incidents reported to the FBI may have had multiple victims. For the time period presented, no hate-crimes were reported to the FBI that were motivated by gender or gender identity.
Source: FBI

Not the full picture

That’s all well and good, but Jack Levin, professor emeritus at Northeastern University in Boston and co-director of the Brudnick Center on Violence and Conflict, cautioned against reading too much into it.

For starters, experts say there are far more hate crimes in the U.S. than are reported.

A 2013 study by the U.S. Justice Department found that two out of three hate crimes are not reported to law enforcement. The survey found that people had not reported violent hate crimes because they were afraid police could not or would not help, had dealt with the issue in another way/as a personal matter,  feared retribution or said it was not important enough to them to report.

Minnesota’s hate crime reporting is likely better than some states because officers are required to make reports of crimes believed to be motivated by hate.

But when it comes to national statistics, even suspected ones law enforcement knows about don’t always make it into the FBI’s tally: Nationally, reporting hate crime statistics to the FBI is voluntary, and police or sheriff departments in many states — especially in the South, Levin said — do not file reports.

“The voluntary reporting system vastly underestimates the number of hate crimes, and also distorts so many things about the characteristics of hate crime offenders and victims,” Levin said. “So it's all but impossible to compare the yearly changes in the prevalence of hate crimes based on the FBI data.”

This month, an Associated Press analysis found more than 2,700 police and sheriff’s departments in the U.S. had not submitted a hate crime report in the last six years. Others filed reports some years, but not others.

Beyond issues with the reporting of hate crimes, it’s important to note that not all suspected hate crimes are prosecuted as such.

“A very small percentage of hate crime arrests lead to a prosecution,” Levin said.

Precipitating events

Hate crime trends follow general crime trends, which in most parts of the U.S. have been on the decline in recent years, Levin said, adding that certain events seem to prompt increases in hate crimes targeted at specific groups of people.

“When (President Barack Obama) was elected for the first time … there was a dramatic increase in hate crimes against African Americans. After September 11, 2001 we saw, according to FBI data, a 1,600 percent increase in hate crimes against Muslims and Arabs in this country, and in 2010 when immigration figures peaked and so did our bad economy, there was a dramatic increase in hate crimes against Latinos,” he said.

A recent report by the Bridge Initiative, a Georgetown University study on Islamophobia, found that violence against Muslims has increased during the 2016 presidential election cycle.

LGBT people were increasingly targeted by hate crimes after Massachusetts became the first state to legalize same-sex marriage in 2004, and again with last year’s marriage ruling, Levin said.

Increasing penalties

Hate crimes can be scary for more than just their victims, and people who commit them can face stiffer penalties than those who commit the underlying crime without a determined bias motive.

“A hate crime directed at an individual is ultimately an attack on the entire community that individual represents, it's an act designed to intimidate and threaten a whole community,” said Anthony Sussman, director of communications and community security for the Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakotas.

In Minnesota, a bill passed last month increases the maximum penalty for felony assaults motivated by bias by 25 percent. Previously, the maximum penalty for bias crimes was a gross misdemeanor.

Sen. Ron Latz, (DFL-St. Louis Park) said the bill came about after an attack on a woman speaking Swahili at a Coon Rapids Applebee’s last October.

Jodie Burchard-Risch, who was dining at the restaurant, was reportedly angered that Asma Jama, who was eating with her family, was speaking a foreign language. Burchard-Risch allegedly smashed a beer mug across Jama’s face, resulting in 17 stitches.

“Prosecutors were complaining that they couldn’t charge her with a felony-level crime and include a bias motivation,” Latz said.

Latz’s bill passed as part of the omnibus supplemental budget bill, but some lawmakers disagreed with its approach.

Latz said felony assaults with a bias motivation are relatively rare, and he doesn’t envision the new penalties will be used frequently, but he feels it’s important for the state to send a strong signal when charges are filed that hate crimes will not be tolerated.

“It will be one more tool that the prosecutors will have to be able to send that very important message that hate crimes are simply not going to be tolerated — they’re special and they deserve a special penalty,” he said.

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