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Hate crime under-reporting and the Islamophobia debate

Posted by Jesse Singal  December 14, 2010 05:00 PM

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Yesterday's Globe story about the low rate at which communities in Massachusetts are reporting hate crimes is an interesting addendum to the debate I had with Jeff Jacoby last week (which was spawned by Jeff's column arguing against the notion that the United States is Islamophobic):

Massachusetts ranked ninth highest in the country in the number of hate crimes reported last year, according to FBI statistics. But of the state’s 351 cities and towns, 211 reported no hate crimes; 71 reported only 1 to 7 hate crimes per 100,000 residents, according to the 2009 FBI Uniform Crime Report, the most recent data available. The remaining 69 Massachusetts communities did not submit reports.

Civil rights advocates said such figures suggest that police are not properly investigating hate crimes, or the advocates worry that some agencies may be underreporting bias crimes to protect the reputation of their communities.

“We take no comfort in low numbers, because it just means that the police are not detecting the problem,’’ said Donald Gorton III, head of the Anti-Violence Project of Massachusetts, which focuses on hate crimes against gays, lesbians, and transgender people. “Often, the ostrich in the sand describes the way they deal with hate.’’

It's hard to say exactly how much under-reporting suppresses the FBI's hate crime count. And this probably isn't enough to account for the fact that, as Jeff wrote, "Hate crimes driven by anti-Muslim bigotry were outnumbered nearly 8 to 1 by anti-Semitic crimes" in 2009.

But I do think if every hate crime were reported, the gap would be smaller. Jews are a more established minority in the United States than Muslims, and we tend to be quick to recognize and report anti-Semitism when it occurs (for good and obvious reasons). A larger share of the Muslim-American community is recent immigrants, and I would imagine that, all things being equal, recent immigrants are less likely to report hate crimes than are Americans whose families have been here awhile.

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ABOUT THE ANGLE Online commentary and news analysis from the Boston Globe. The Angle is produced by Rob Anderson and Alan Wirzbicki. You can follow Rob on Twitter at @rcand.

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