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New Jersey’s Troubling Trend, Increase in Bias and Hate Crimes

State attorney general says rise in reported incidents partly the result of country’s ‘political leaders’ who countenance ‘intolerance and hatred’

aryan nation
Credit: Joshua Yospyn via Flickr

The number of bias and hate crimes in New Jersey rose in 2016, mirroring a national trend that many people – including the state’s attorney general – attribute to the campaign and election of Donald Trump.

Attorney General Gurbir Grewal discussed the 417 reported hate crimes in New Jersey in 2016, a nearly 14 percent increase over the prior year, during a forum on the topic at Rutgers University last week. The most recent statistics available that track hate crimes are for 2016.

“It’s sad that we see bias incidents trending upward, but it’s not surprising, given that we have political leaders in this country who encourage the expression of intolerance and hatred, or in other cases, ignore or countenance it,” Grewal said. “What we need to do, as individuals and as a society, is to push back against this prejudice. We need to embrace the diversity that makes us stronger as a state and a nation, and we need to spread a countervailing message of tolerance and unity. To quote Nelson Mandela, ‘No one is born hating another person.’ If people can learn to hate, they also can learn to love and respect one another.”

The New Jersey State Police track hate crimes through the Uniform Crime Report and annually release a Bias Incident Report. All local law enforcement officials report incidents to the state.

Tracking the trend

New Jersey’s increase mimics the national trend. The Federal Bureau of Investigation’s annual hate crimes report showed an increase as well from 2015 to 2016. The 7,321 offenses reported in 2016 were more than 6 percent higher than the number a year earlier.

According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, bias crimes have been rising since the start of the Trump campaign and right after his election, in part because white supremacists and other nationalists saw an ally in his rhetoric, including “incendiary racial statements, the stoking of white racial resentment and attacks on so-called ‘political correctness.’”

The number of hate crimes in New Jersey had been declining over several years before the spike in 2016. Since 775 incidents were reported in 2010, the number had been dropping and reached just 367 in 2015. The 417 crimes reported in 2016 was the highest number since 2013, when there were 459 known incidents.

Researchers say the number of reported incidents is just a fraction of the total bias crimes that occur as many victims are afraid to report offenses. A report released by the U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Statistics last June estimated that an average of 250,000 hate crimes occurred every year between 2004 and 2015.

Col. Patrick Callahan, acting superintendent of the New Jersey State Police, said law enforcement officials use the information collected on bias offenses to work more collaboratively and effectively to investigate incidents and make arrests.

“The tracking and reporting of these incidents paint a disturbing picture of intolerance, discrimination and their corresponding criminal acts,” said Callahan. “All residents of this great state should feel free to be who they are without the fear of being victimized because of their race, religion, or any other identifiable status.”

There is a lot of information in the state report on bias crimes. These are some of the most striking statistics reported:

  • Middlesex County reported the largest number of incidents, 80, which was more than 14 percent than in 2015. The greatest increase was in Warren County, which logged a 400 percent jump in incidents, from 1 in 2015 to 5 in 2016.

  • Police made 55 arrests — 40 adults and 15 juveniles — in connection with bias incidents, mostly harassment or assault. That was a 10 percent increase over 2015.

  • The most common offenses were harassment, 186 reported or 45 percent of all, and criminal mischief, 141 reported. There were also 16 cases each of simple assault and making terroristic threats.

  • Almost six in 10 crimes, or a total of 249, were directed at people, with the rest property crimes.

  • Racial bias was the most frequent type of hate crime, 171 incidents or 41 percent of all. Closely following was religious bias, 166 incidents or 40 percent of the total.

  • The groups most often targeted were blacks, 127 crimes, Jewish people, 124 crimes, and Muslims, 26 crimes.

  • Bias incidents happened most often in schools, 112 reports, and at a victim’s home, 110.

  • About a third of the offenders were juveniles, while fewer than a quarter of the victims were under age 18.

  • While four out of 10 incidents involved one person against another, about 19 percent involved graffiti. In 70 cases, or 17 percent, a swastika was drawn or left at a site.

  • About 12 percent of crimes, or a total of 48, were directed against homosexuals or bisexuals.

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