Hate Crimes

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

FBI STATISTICS released recently on the number of hate crimes across the United States are encouraging in some respects. In 2007, the number of reported bias incidents nationwide fell 1.3 percent to 7,624 cases involving 9,535 victims. In 2006, there were 7,722 reported cases and 9,652 victims. That reduction was driven by a 4.2 percent decrease in reported bias crimes based on religion and a 3.2 percent dip in those based on race. But for gay men and lesbians, the data are cause for concern.

Nationwide, there was a 5.5 percent increase between 2006 and 2007 in reported hate crimes based on the victims' perceived sexual orientation. In the District, the picture is a bit complicated. The city mirrors the nation in a reduction in racial-bias crimes. There were eight such crimes in 2006, and three last year. There has also been a consistent and heartening reduction in crimes based on sexual orientation. But, according to data from the D.C. police, those incidents accounted for the overwhelming majority of hate crimes in the city. They made up 29 of the 43 incidents in 2005; 36 of 53 in 2006; 26 of 37 in 2007; and 13 of 17 so far this year.

Recent hate-crime incidents in the District, such as the Oct. 3 attack on a gay man at the C&O Canal, have unnerved many gay men and lesbians. The murder of Tony Randolph Hunter, which hasn't been classified a hate-crime, has sent a chill through the gay community. On Sept. 7, police say, Mr. Taylor, of Clinton, was beaten by four men at Eighth and N Streets NW while on his way to Be Bar, a gay club on Ninth Street. He died 10 days later. The killing spurred the re-creation of Gays and Lesbians Opposing Violence to serve as a watchdog and to push for long-term strategies to end hate crimes. A similar group existed in the 1990s.

While all crimes are an affront to society, offenses rooted in animus toward a victim's real or perceived characteristics are especially pernicious. The fear of crime becomes an extra burden for members of these groups, who can feel that they are being hunted. That is why it is imperative for anyone who is assaulted to file a report with the police, for the police to bring perpetrators to justice, and for the city -- leaders and ordinary residents -- to make clear that violence motivated by hate will not be tolerated.

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