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New Hate Crimes Report Offers Hope and Challenge

New Hate Crimes Report Offers Hope and Challenge

The Jewish tradition is replete with stories of successful resistance to hate. From Moses’s actions to bring the Israelites out of slavery under Pharaoh to Esther’s efforts to save the Jews threatened by Haman, we are taught time and again of the power of bravery and steadfastness when confronted by people who would us harm. We are further reminded that our obligation to fight hate extends beyond Jews, as Mishnah Sanhedrin instructs that Adam “was created to teach us the sanctity and importance of every life…” (4:5). Drawing on these lessons, Reform Jews have long been at the forefront of campaigns against crimes motivated by hatred, whether directed at Jews or at other vulnerable groups.

On Monday, the FBI released its annual report of documented hate crimes for 2014, and the details offer reasons to be optimistic about ongoing anti-hate crime efforts. Among the highlights, reported hate crimes fell from 5,928 in 2013 to 5,479 in 2014. And, crimes with a religious-bias motivation slightly decreased, from 1,031 in 2013 to 1,014 in 2014.

It appears that local law enforcement agencies are also improving in their recognition and reporting of hate crimes motivated by gender and gender-identity bias, a practice which began in 2013. Furthermore, the 15,494 law enforcement agencies that participated in hate crimes data collection in 2014 represented the largest participation rate since the data program began in 1990.

While we should applaud these developments, there are also areas of significant concern in the FBI’s latest hate crimes data.

One of the most troubling parts of the report is the fact is that crimes against Jews once again comprised nearly 60 percent of the 1,092 religiously-motivated hate crimes reported this year. Anti-Muslim hate crimes increased in 2014 and made up the next largest segment of religious crimes (16.3%). These statistics suggest that there continue to be troubling strains of anti-Semitism and Islamophobia in the United States that must be forcefully condemned and combatted.

Additionally, of the 6,385 total hate crimes documented in 2014, nearly half were motivated by a racial bias. As the Reform Movement begins to engage in the critical work of racial justice, we must remember that racism needs to be addressed locally as well as nationally. Anti-racism efforts in congregations and schools can play a powerful role in rolling back the racial prejudice that can lead to acts of hatred.

Finally, underreporting of hate crimes remains a serious problem. Almost 90% of agencies that took part in the data collection reported zero hate crimes in 2014. Many of these agencies have consistently reported at low levels over the past several years, raising serious doubt about the accuracy of the reporting. Thousands of law enforcement agencies may remain poorly informed about hate crime data collection or may not be contributing the necessary resources to report hate crimes.

We still have much work to do to ensure that all of us, whether white or black, transgender or cisgender, Jewish or Muslim, are treated with the respect deserving of beings created in God’s image. As Jews and Americans, we can continue to combat hatred through education and through relationship-building across lines of identity. We can also work with and encourage law enforcement to ensure that hate crimes are properly identified, responded to and reported.

For more information about current hate crime laws and ongoing efforts to combat hatred, you can visit the Anti-Defamation League’s Hate Crimes Law page. To read the 2014 hate crimes data collection report in full, or to report a hate crime in your community, see the FBI’s Hate Crimes website.

Photo courtesy of Flickr/Michael Fleshman

Adam Waters is a 2015-2016 Eisendrath Legislative Assistant at the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism. He grew up in Coral Springs, FL, and was a member of Temple Beth Orr. Adam graduated from Brown University.

Adam Waters