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‘Disturbing’ Increase in NJ Bias Incidents Last Year, Especially Among Young

Task force to combat youth bias is set up as Attorney General decries ‘rising tide of hate’

Bias report published
Credit: NJTV News

The number of bias incidents in New Jersey climbed in 2018 for the third straight year, with the total number reported at the highest level since 2011 and 55 percent above the lowest point in 2015, a new state report shows.

In releasing the latest bias incident report for the state on Wednesday, Attorney General Gurbir Grewal said that the prevalence of incidents at schools and involving young offenders was especially “disturbing” and that the state was taking immediate action to tackle that issue by creating a task force.

Grewal, who termed the increase in documented incidents a “rising tide of hate,” said, “If we are going to conquer hate, we need to do a better job with our young people.”

Bias incidents are offenses motivated by a victim’s perceived or actual race, color, ethnicity, national origin, religion, sexual orientation, disability, gender, gender identity or gender expression. New Jersey law defines the crime of bias intimidation as an offense committed to intimidate an individual or group of individuals because of those characteristics.

New Jersey is not alone in experiencing an increase in bias incidents. The report cites data from the Federal Bureau of Investigation that shows hate crimes nationally have increased since 2014, with a sharp rise of 17 percent from 2016 to 2017. The FBI reported 7,175 hate crimes across the country in 2017.

Arson, homicide and lesser crimes

According to the New Jersey report, individuals reported 569 bias incidents to law enforcement in 2018. That was 4 percent higher than in the prior year. These incidents included significant crimes like arson and homicide and lesser disorderly actions like harassment.

It’s unclear whether the increase was the result of more people reporting incidents or an actual increase in the number of hate crimes, but given the national trend, it is most likely the latter, said Rachel Wainer Apter, director of the state Division on Civil Rights. She said social media that promotes divisive speech, heated political rhetoric and a rise in the number of hate groups all likely contributed to the increase in incidents.

Grewal noted that the numbers reported could represent only a fraction of the actual number of incidents occurring, saying, “Bias incidents historically have been underreported. Some individuals don’t report because they think they will not be taken seriously.”

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The release of the data and its effect of shining a light on bias and hate “couldn’t be more timely or urgent, given what is taking place in our country right now,” he added.

Back-to-back mass shootings in different states over the weekend left 31 people dead and scores of others wounded. In El Paso, Texas, the alleged gunman was a young white man who wrote what has been described as a racist, anti-immigrant manifesto filled with white supremacist language.

Offenders were mostly male, mostly white

According to the New Jersey report, almost eight of 10 of the known offenders were male and the same proportion were white. Close to half of offenders in 2018 were minors, up from less than 30 percent in 2017.

That prompted Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver to sign an executive order creating a new Interagency Task Force to Combat Youth Bias. It’s charged with recommending within six months ways to reduce incidents of hate, bias and intolerance involving students and young adults. Apter will chair the task force, which will include representatives from eight state agencies.

Apter described the task force as an important way to address “hate, bias, and prejudice among students and young people.”

Over the last two years, 284 bias incidents were reported on college campuses. More than a quarter of bias incidents reported last year happened on campus.

“We are deeply disturbed by the upward trend of bias incidents happening nationwide, especially at our public colleges,” Oliver said in a statement. She said the new task force “is going to help us better understand the source of the problem so we can effectively target and educate the next generation about how to overcome hidden bias and treat each other with the dignity and respect we all deserve.”

Task force agenda

The task force is charged with beginning its work as soon as possible. It is tasked with studying the causes of hate, bias and intolerance, evaluating existing programs, laws and curricula dealing with the issue and recommending new policies and other actions to combat hate.

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According to the report, most bias incidents reported in New Jersey in 2018 were motivated by the victim’s race, ethnicity or ancestry. More than a third were motivated by the victim’s religion. Ten percent were motivated by the victim’s sexual orientation, gender, or gender identity or expression.

Consistent with a trend that has prevailed throughout the past 13 years, about 72 percent of all reported racially motivated bias incidents in New Jersey in 2017 and 2018 were aimed at African Americans. Hispanics were the most frequently targeted ethnic group and anti-Jewish offenses formed the bulk of reported bias incidents driven by religious prejudice in the past two years — including 152 reported incidents involving swastikas.

No part of the state was immune from bias incidents. Over the past three years, at least a handful bias crimes were reported in every county. The largest number last year was in Monmouth County, where 94 offenses were reported. That county also had the largest prevalence rate, with 1.51 incidents reported per 10,000 residents. The greatest one-year increase was recorded in Passaic County, where the number of reported bias crimes nearly quadrupled to 27 in 2018.

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