California Leads States in Hate Crimes
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This originally appeared at La Opinión, and was translated by Suzanne Manneh.
California, New York and New Jersey continue to lead other states in hate crime statistics. According to figures from the annual FBI report released Monday, hate crimes have declined nationally, decreasing by 13 percent in 2009, but these three states continue to have the highest rates.
Fatal hate crime cases such as the beating of Luis Ramirez in Shenandoah, Pa., gained national attention. Ramirez, an undocumented immigrant from Mexico, was walking with his white girlfriend when he was attacked and beaten to death by a group of white teenagers in 2008. Another case that made national headlines was that of Marcelo Lucero, an Ecuadorean immigrant who was beaten by a group of teenagers near a Long Island train station in 2008.
But national media attention does not seem to have changed the reality in areas with high Latino populations.
According to the FBI report, California had more reported hate crime incidents last year than any other state, with 1,015 cases. New York followed with 626 and New Jersey with 549 cases. Despite these figures, the states have seen declines in the numbers of hate crimes compared to 2008, when there were 1,381 cases in California, 744 cases in New York, and 570 in New Jersey.
Congress defines a hate crime as a criminal offense against a person or their property, motivated, in whole or part, by a bias against race, religion, disability, ethnicity or sexual orientation.
In California, most of the hate crimes were racially motivated, with 453 cases. This was followed by hate crimes based on sexual orientation (222), religion (194), ethnicity (142) and disability (four cases).
However, the high number of reported cases in California could also be a sign that more people in the state are coming forward to report the crimes.
Ty Cobb, legislative director for the Human Rights Campaign, told La Opinión that the numbers are higher in California, New York and New Jersey because there is “higher awareness and education about what hate crimes are, as reported and investigated. There is a preparation to identify.”
Human rights organizations have criticized the data from areas such as Pennsylvania, which only reported 42 cases, in a state whose population is estimated at 12.5 million people.
They were also skeptical of the national numbers, which showed a decrease in hate crimes, with a total of 8,336 victims in 2009. There were 692 anti-Latino motivated cases, compared with 791 in 2008. In total 14,222 agencies provided data for the report, an increase of 532 from the previous year.
However, participation in the study is voluntary.
Organizations like the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) were critical of the estimates, citing the fact that "60 cities in the country were not included in the study."
"We welcome the FBI report, which contains the lowest hate crime numbers since 1994 and the largest number of agencies reporting. However, violent intolerance is still disturbingly prevalent in the United States, and we are disappointed that more than 60 cities did not participate and that the reported figures do not seem credible," said Robert G. Sugarman, national chair of the ADL.
Last year, President Barack Obama signed a bill into law to prevent hate crimes, named after Matthew Shepard, a gay Wyoming teenager who died after being kidnapped and severely beaten in October 1998, and James Byrd Jr., an African-American man dragged to his death in Texas the same year.
This bill expanded the Justice Department’s powers to investigate and prosecute hate crimes. Civil rights institutions agree that it is too early to assess the impact of the legislation.
"Justice is educating prosecutors about it at a national level. The civil rights divisions of different government agencies are in the same process. The effect it has had so far lies in this area, and not the number of reported cases," said Cobb.
Activists agree that many cases go unreported, which brings the official hate crime statistics down well below that of the actual reality. In the case of Latinos, for example, one of the most common reasons they don’t report violent incidents is their (immigration) status.