Capital News Service

of the Michigan State University School of Journalism

Efforts credited for decline in reports of hate crimes

By NYSSA RABINOWITZ
Capital News Service

LANSING – The recent burning of a Quran in front of an East Lansing mosque drew international attention.

It also represents only one recent example of hate crimes in Michigan, according to the Department of Civil Rights.

Among the others: a Latino man was beaten in Bay City by attackers yelling racial slurs, said Harold Core, the department’s director of public affairs.

Elsewhere, crosses have been burned in front of houses and nooses hung in workplace lockers, apparently targeting African Americans.

And a young man in Kalamazoo was assaulted because of his sexuality.

Despite such incidents, Core said he is personally optimistic about the future because the number of reported hate crimes decreases year by year in Michigan.

Hate crimes are motivated entirely or partly by bias against the victim’s race, national origin, religion, sexual orientation, mental or physical disabilities or ethnicity, according to the State Police.

While most states have experienced an increase in reported hate crimes, Michigan’s reported number dropped because of improvements in community education and police training, Core said.

In 2007, the Michigan Alliance Against Hate Crimes hired staff to train 6,000 crime victim service providers about how to determine whether an incident was a hate crime and how to respond, Core said.

The group continues to work with communities and to train law enforcement officers on effective response and identification techniques, Core said.

Michigan moved to having the fourth-highest number of reported hate crimes in 2008 after having the third-highest for years, Core said. California, New Jersey and now New York have the most.

Last year, 502 incidents were reported as hate crimes, a drop of almost 25 percent from 2008, State Police data shows. The incidents involved 652 victims, a 10 percent decrease from 2008.

The number of incidents varies by location, with more incidents in cities than in rural areas, State Police data shows.

“I haven’t noticed any change in this county,” said Chippewa County Prosecutor Brian Peppler, past president of the Prosecuting Attorney’s Association of Michigan. “We’re not faced with those crimes that often because it is a rural community.”

Young adults in their 20s were most likely to be victims. People between 10 and 19 were the second-most targeted group in 2009,  according to State Police figures.

Anti-black discrimination was the most common theme across age groups, but victims between 60 and 79 reported anti-white discrimination as the primary motive, the data show.

It is not known what the numbers mean or why perpetrators choose the victims they do because not enough research has been done, Core said.

“We need more research into the numbers of hate crimes,” Core added.

African-Americans have been the most targeted group since the 1800s, Core said.

The percentage of hate crimes against immigrants, homosexuals and Muslims is increasing even as the total number goes down, Core said.

Most reported crimes are committed at the victim’s home by neighbors, strangers and acquaintances, the data show. “Personal weapons,” such as hands, fists and feet, were used in about 17 percent of cases.

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