Posted on February 24, 2004
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Hate crimes damage the fabric of our society and fragment communities. The urgent national need for both a tough law enforcement response and education and programming to confront violent bigotry has only increased since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Over the past two years, the FBI has recorded a very substantial increase in the number of crimes directed against Arabs, Muslims, and Sikhs. Crimes against Jews and Jewish institutions comprise over twelve percent of the reported hate crimes– and sixty-five percent of the religious-based crimes.
With anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism on the rise around the globe the United States must continue to set an example by leading the fight against prejudice and hate-motivated violence. The Jewish community relations field must continue to play a leadership role in crafting innovative legal and educational initiatives, and in working with law enforcement officials and broad interreligious and interethnic coalitions, in support of improved response at the federal, state, and local levels:
State hate crime laws. Over the past two decades, 46 states and the District of Columbia have enacted hate crime laws. Under these statutes, upheld by a unanimous Supreme Court in 1993, expressions of hate protected by the First Amendment’s free speech clause are not criminalized. Yet, only 30 state laws include sexual orientation in their statute; only 27 include gender, and only 30 include disability. The JCPA supports passage of hate crime laws in those states without them, and supports strengthening laws in those states that now lack comprehensive laws.
The inclusion of any group in hate crime laws need not be viewed as an expression of support for that group, but rather as a recognition of the reality that certain segments of our society are subject to significantly greater incidences of hate crimes — and that hate crimes legislation speaks to our collective disdain for criminal behavior motivated by hatred towards groups or individuals because of their association with a group.
Federal hate crime laws. The vast majority of bias crimes are effectively addressed at the state and local level. However, in states without hate crime statutes, and in others with limited coverage, federal investigators and prosecutors must have authority to assist local prosecutions and become involved. Pending legislation, the Local Law Enforcement Enhancement Act (LLEEA), would provide this expanded hate crime response authority. The JCPA reaffirms its support for the LLEEA and calls upon Members of Congress to enact this measure as a high priority.
Hate Crime Training and Data Collection for Law Enforcement Officials. Enacted in 1990, the Hate Crime Statistics Act has increased public awareness of the problem and sparked improvements in the local response of the criminal justice system to hate violence. In 2002, the FBI reported 7,462 hate crimes, including 931 crimes against Jews and Jewish institutions. The Bureau’s annual report provides an important measure of accountability to identify law enforcement agencies that report – and those that do not. In 2002, just over 12,000 of the nation’s 17,000 law enforcement agencies reported hate crime figures to the FBI – and the vast majority of them (84.5%) reported zero hate crimes. To improve reporting, training of law enforcement is needed. Hate crime reporting at colleges and universities is especially incomplete. The JCPA supports expanded participation in the FBI Hate Crime Statistics Act data collection effort – including better reporting by colleges and universities. In addition, JCPA supports efforts to empower victims of hate crime to report them to authorities.
Education and Training. There is growing awareness of the need to complement tough laws and more vigorous enforcement with education, awareness, and training initiatives designed to reduce bias-motivated violence – especially for youth. The JCPA supports expanded efforts to promote innovative anti-bias violence training and educational outreach for schools and the community.
The Use of the Bully Pulpit. Our civic leaders set the tone for national discourse and have an essential role in shaping attitudes. The JCPA encourages political, religious, and civic leaders to seek opportunities to speak out against expressions of bigotry, intolerance, and prejudice intended to intimidate or teach contempt for others in our society.