Our Town Downtown: Getting to the Root of Hate Crimes

 

June 19, 2013 by Alissa Fleck

Rash of anti-gay violence in the City prompts senate hearing to assess efficacy of hate crimes law and rehabilitative options

Former senator Tom Duane sat before elected officials and members of the community at a senate forum and talked about the time in 1983 when he was brutally beaten outside a bar because of his sexual orientation.

“It was a matter of life or death,” said Duane. “A few weeks later I called the [District Attorney] and the police department which took the report and asked when the trial was and they told me it had been adjudicated—classified as a misdemeanor.”

“I had no chance to even see the perpetrators in the light of day,” said Duane. “There was no interaction with law enforcement, there was no organization in that area. It was as if it never happened.”

Despite successes for the LGBT community in recent years, bias-motivated acts targeting members of this community have not declined. While many members of the larger community may like to believe these incidents are isolated acts of vitriol, Duane sat before State Senator Brad Hoylman and his colleagues and told them that’s simply not the case. The real problem is a lack of education, he said, and it extends everywhere, from a faulty educational system to ignorance in the State Senate itself.

There have been some drastic social and legal changes since Duane was attacked in 1983, but much—including public attitudes and failures in data collection—remains the same, as a recent spate of hate crimes in the City this year has demonstrated.
“I had no chance to even see the perpetrators in the light of day,” said Duane. “There was no interaction with law enforcement, there was no organization in that area. It was as if it never happened.”

Despite successes for the LGBT community in recent years, bias-motivated acts targeting members of this community have not declined. While many members of the larger community may like to believe these incidents are isolated acts of vitriol, Duane sat before State Senator Brad Hoylman and his colleagues and told them that’s simply not the case. The real problem is a lack of education, he said, and it extends everywhere, from a faulty educational system to ignorance in the State Senate itself.

There have been some drastic social and legal changes since Duane was attacked in 1983, but much—including public attitudes and failures in data collection—remains the same, as a recent spate of hate crimes in the City this year has demonstrated.

Hoylman convened the senate hearing with a number of witnesses from relevant organizations to address what he and others feel is a very serious issue.

“There have been nine suspected bias motivated attacks in the last month in Manhattan alone,” said Hoylman, “including the tragic murder of Mark Carson,” who was shot and killed in the West Village last month.

“We need to look at how state and local governments are enforcing the law and what amendments are needed,” he added.

We also need to do a better job identifying who’s at risk, Hoylman said. He noted one current shortcoming: transgender individuals are not currently covered under hate crime law.

Anti-LGBT hate crimes have been on the rise in the City for four years with a four percent increase from 2011 to 2012. Prior to that, the increases were in the double digits.

Hoylman explained: “This comes at a time when we see tremendous progress in the LGBT community—a study published yesterday by the PEW research center found 90 percent of LGBT Americans believe progress has been made, though one third have experienced violence based on their orientation.”

Despite these recent hate crimes, the LGBT community is not unique—there have been waves of bias motivated incidents across the state affecting all groups.

Adam Dean, the chief of the New York State Crime Reporting Program at the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services, laid out the troubling statistics. There were 720 hate crimes reported in the State in 2012; 405 were anti-religious, 250 were anti-race and 93 were anti-sexual orientation. Many survivors of hate violence, particularly those in the immigrant community, do not trust government authorities and, if they choose to report at all, would rather consult with a non-government entity.

Dean indicated another problem with data collection, however, which is the tricky process of making sure a hate crime is initially reported as such by the responding officer. While an officer is not necessarily exempt from personal bias, most often he is simply the first cop responding and potentially unfamiliar with proper protocol or the signs of a hate crime.

“Hate crimes can and do disrupt entire communities and take away civility essential to democratic processes,” said Hoylman. “Combatting hate crime takes a multi prong approach.”

“It’s widely recognized that hate crime laws can have a deterrent impact—we must limit the potential for hate crimes to explode into cycles of violence.”

In terms of solutions to the troubling persistence of bias-motivated attacks, numerous presenters discussed rehabilitative and educational strategies rather than incarceration, particularly since the vast majority of hate crime offenders tend to be young. The average offender of hate crime incidents is 13 to 22 years of age, while seventy percent of victims are in high school, and highly unlikely to report. Sometimes, several presenters noted, the root of negative attitudes is found in the perpetrator’s home or religious community.

According to Daniel Dromm of the Committee on Immigration, “Every school in New York State must use the the words ‘Lesbian,’ ‘Gay,’ ‘Bisexual,’ and ‘Transgender’ in positive context to make safe and affirming environment.”

The elderly are another group, like young kids, disproportionately impacted and less likely to report their victimization.

The laws around hate crimes must be updated, noted Hoylman. “Hate crime data collection mandates are essential for understanding the nature and magnitude, and increasing public awareness and prompt improvements in response to crimes,” he said.

He added there should be better training for law enforcement personnel, stronger data collection and a wider scope for hate crime law. Hate crime training, for instance, is currently not mandatory for law enforcement.

Additionally, it’s crucial for survivors of hate crimes to feel comfortable coming forward and talking about the experience.

Charles M. Guria, the Executive Assistant District Attorney and Chief of the Civil Rights Bureau in Kings County, explained, “Individuals who have been victims of hate crimes could serve an important role if they were to share their vantage point—what it’s like being the person trying to report, the more a police officer has information, the more it helps with reporting aspects.”

He also noted some of these incidents are extremely traumatic and embarrassing and it’s not uncommon for a victim to not want to repeat slurs used against him. These individuals must feel the outcome of reporting will result in success rather than re-traumatization.

Another complication, explained Sharon Stapel, Executive Director of the Gay & Lesbian Anti-Violence Project, is that the “victim” is not a static entity. While Stapel agrees legislation against hate violence must be altered, she believes we need to have a deeper understanding of the victim in the first place.

“There is a chilling, compounded effect for people who are, for instance, LGBT and immigrants. They are afraid of authority but also of their immigrant status.”

“We need to look at every imaginable category of protected class,” added Stapel. “We need to examine the intersection of identities and address it at this intersection.”

“Training is a good thing but we have to recognize the limitations of training,” she said. “Until we have comprehensive multicultural inclusive curriculum, we will not see an end to the hate crimes.”

“For many years I fought for the enactment of hate crime legislation,” said Duane. “But it took a few years for me to say I was the victim of a hate crime. I stuffed it down because I did feel there would be judgment.”

“Even if there had been a way for me to report it was a hate crime, I may not have, because I had no broken bones.”

Duane said if the incident were to happen today, rather than go straight to the police, he would still feel safer consulting the Anti-Violence Project and asking them to walk him through the process.