With hate crimes surging nationwide, not a single Republican will sign on as a co-sponsor to a bill to address the problem.
According to new FBI statistics released this week, documented hate crimes rose by 17 percent in 2017, with particularly notable increases in anti-Hispanic and anti-Semitic crimes. During the same time period, white supremacist murders doubled, making 2017 the fifth deadliest year on record for extremist violence.
Clearly, there's a need to do something to address the surge in hate crimes.
The good news is that there is already a bill in Congress that not only seeks to stop these alarming trends, but also to establish a clearer picture of who is being targeted, what types of crimes are being committed, what services are needed to help victims, and how reporting practices can be improved.
The bad news is that the bill is sitting in Congress and not going anywhere because not a single Republican has signed on as a co-sponsor.
The "National Opposition to Hate, Assault, and Threats to Equality Act," also known as the "NO HATE Act," was first introduced in March 2017 by Rep. Don Beyer (D-VA), with a parallel bill introduced in the Senate by Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT).
In light of the new FBI statistics released this week, on top of the recent anti-Semitic attack that killed 11 Jews at a synagogue in Pittsburgh, Beyer is issuing a renewed call to pass the legislation and improve current data collection practices to gain a better understanding of hate crimes in America.
"For the third year in a row, hate crimes across the country have risen, this year by 17 percent," Beyer said in a statement Wednesday. "[It] is time for Congress to take action. With each passing year, the problem of hate in the United States grows, and it requires Congress to take up and pass the NO HATE Act."
As Beyer noted, the documented rise in hate crimes almost certainly underestimates the true numbers, given that underreporting is a persistent and widespread problem.
An estimated 1 in 6 law enforcement agencies nationwide failed to file a single hate crimes report between 2009 and 2015, and in some states, a majority of agencies failed to file a single report. Meanwhile, at least one state — Hawaii — doesn't even participate in the national hate crime reporting program.
As a result, many hate crimes are simply not reflected in national statistics, even if they make national headlines.
For example, the Charlottesville, Virginia, Police Department reported no hate crimes between July and September of last year, meaning that the murder of Heather Heyer by a white supremacist is missing from federal hate crimes statistics. So, too, are the 35 people who were injured when the accused killer, James Alex Fields Jr., plowed his car into a crowd of protesters.
Currently, federal guidance states that it is the responsibility of law enforcement officers responding to an incident to determine whether there are any indications of a hate crime, which introduces a significant degree of subjectivity into the reporting process.
The "NO HATE Act" seeks to improve reporting practices by establishing a standardized protocol outlining the types of information that law enforcement agencies should collect when investigating possible hate crimes, and providing training to ensure that police know how to recognize hate crimes and pursue them appropriately.
The bill would also provide grants to states to establish and run hotlines to record information about hate crimes, and to refer victims to the services they need. New York and Maryland have already set up hate crimes hotlines, but the new legislation would allot funding to do the same in all 50 states.
Another section of the legislation is designed to help victims of hate crimes get justice in court, even if they live in a state without hate crimes laws. Currently, 20 states still do not consider attacks on LGBTQ people to be hate crimes, and five states — Arkansas, Georgia, Indiana, South Carolina, and Wyoming — do not have any hate crime statutes on the books at all.
With hate crimes on the rise, this type of legislation should pass with overwhelming bipartisan approval. But as they've done so many times before, Republicans are responding to the need with complicit silence.
While Trump may be the face of hate, his Republican allies have enabled it every step of the way — and innocent Americans have paid the price for it.
Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.