FBI: Hate crimes down nationally; nearly half are racial

(AP Photo)

(AP Photo)

The FBI released its yearly report on hate crimes last week and it showed a slight decrease in 2011. The report showed that nearly half of the hate crimes reported were racially motivated and 20 percent were sexual orientation bias.

The FBI reported 6,222 hate crimes in 2011, down from 6,628 in 2010 and 6,604 in 2009. California led all states in reported hate crimes with 1,040, with New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, and Michigan rounding out the top five.

In 2011, law enforcement agencies reported 7,713 victims of hate crimes nationally and all but 16 of the total incidents were based on one bias. Overall, 46.9 percent of hate crimes were racially motivated, 20.8 percent from sexual orientation, and 19.8 percent were motivated by religious bias.

There were some mitigating circumstances to some of the statistics that led the FBI to caution that the rankings cannot completely be held as the final numbers. Mississippi, for example, had the lowest number of reported hate crimes in the country, with just one.

In that one reported hate crime, five white men – William Montgomery, Deryl Dedmon, John Aaron Rice, Dylan Butler, and Jonathan Gaskamp – conspired to harass and assault African-Americans in and around Jackson, Miss., culminating in the death of James Anderson on June 26, 2011. The two men used beer bottles, sling shots, and cars to torment homeless blacks who they felt would not fight back or go to the police.

“It’s very hard to get much that’s useful out of these numbers,” Mark Potok, a senior fellow at the Southern Poverty Law Center told Yahoo. “The idea that an entire state had one hate crime is flatly ludicrous.”

The numbers are also skewed due to some places having full departments that deal strictly with hate crimes, and others under reporting them or not reporting them at all. The New York City Police Department has a large hate crimes unit, which leads to a higher number of reported incidents.

Out of those who committed hate crimes nationwide, nearly 60 percent were white while 20 percent were black. Justin Alesna, a 23-year-old Detroit man, was the victim of a black-on-black hate crime in March 2011, when he was assaulted in a Detroit gas station by a man who claimed that he was standing too close to him in line and peppered him with gay slurs before assaulting him.

“The hate stops now,” Alesna said in a YouTube video he posted after the attack. Alesna also said that as the assault happened, bystanders encouraged the beating and laughed while the clerk working in the store refused to call police.

Police eventually arrested 36-year-old Everett Dwayne Avery, who plead guilty to the assault this past August and faces 12 years in federal prison. Avery was the second person convicted under the Hate Crimes Prevention Act that President Obama signed into law in 2009.

“A hate crime is different than a simple assault because it is an attack on not just one individual victim, but an attack on everyone who shares a particular characteristic,” U.S. Attorney Barbara McQuade said after the guilty plea. “By passing this statute, Congress made it clear that an attack based on a victim’s sexual orientation will not be tolerated in America.”

Michigan showed a slight increase in hate crimes, going from 304 to 346. Nearly 65 percent of Michigan’s hate crimes were race related, while 14.2 percent were crimes against gays, and nearly 13 percent were religious hate crimes.

“I don’t understand why this happened to me,” Alesna said. “I remember this story of seven kids killing themselves because they didn’t want to deal with (stuff) like this. Before they could even start their lives, they were afraid of this happening to them.

“The only way that it gets better, the only way that we can assure that (stuff) like this doesn’t happen, is by standing up, is by speaking out, is by actually doing something to try to make our society better.”

Follow Jay Scott Smith on Twitter @JayScottSmith