The FBI today released its hate crime report for 2008, showing the number of documented hate crimes by participating agencies to be up nationally by about 2.1 percent. Locally, hate crimes were up in Arizona by nearly 15 percent, in Phoenix by 11.25 percent (see note below), and in Maricopa County by 100 percent, but this last figure is somewhat misleading. There were only two hate crimes reported by the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office for 2007. There were four reported in 2008.
According to the FBI's stats, Phoenix had the largest chunk of the reported hate crimes in the state, 89 in 2008, which is nine more than 2007. The state had a total of 185 for 2008, up from 161 in 2007.
These are significant increases, and should come as no surprise to those who pay attention to Arizona's roiling debate on immigration, with nativists, neo-Nazis and opportunistic politicians -- such as our own Sheriff Joe -- dominating the discussion. No doubt, Arpaio's ongoing anti-immigrant sweeps of the Valley's Hispanic communities increase ethnic tension, spread fear, and contribute to such crimes being underreported.
Indeed, trouble with reporting issues for bias crimes likely skews the results, as Professor Brian Levin, Director of Cal-State San Bernardino's Center for the Study of Hate & Extremism, pointed out in his Huffington Post blog on the new numbers.
"Participation is simply too spotty to be able draw firm conclusions about the direction of hate crime nationally last year," Levin wrote in his blog item.
Also, the efficiency of hate crime reporting varies from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. Some police agencies have improved their reporting methods. Others seem to be marking down a perfunctory "0." Indeed, one wonders if Maricopa County's single digits are a product of a sheriff's department that openly engages in widespread racial profiling.
Experts from the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Anti-Defamation League have cited numerous reasons for a national rise, including the candidacy and election of President Barack Obama, the nation's first African-American president, as well as the down economy and the friction over the subject of immigration.
Bill Straus, Regional Director of the Arizona ADL, cited Arizona's attitude toward Mexican immigrants as one of the main causes for the increase in hate crimes in the state.
"The general rule of thumb I use," Straus told me, "is that hate crimes tend to increase when the dominant culture feels it's under attack, with regard to some of the anti-government sentiments. But here in Arizona, there's no question the rhetoric coming from the anti-immigration people would indicate to me that they feel they're under attack. They refer to it as an attack, an onslaught, an assault. And they use military terms to refer to the wave of immigration, legal and illegal."
Straus said he believes that the actual number of hate crimes for Phoenix and Arizona is higher, because "it's one kind of crime that's always underreported, regardless of the group."
There's another problem, of course, regarding the undocumented. If they are assaulted, in a bias crime or any other crime, what guarantee do they have that they will not be arrested and possibly deported? Phoenix does not target victims for this kind of enforcement, but the MCSO does. And fear of one law enforcement agency easily bleeds over into the fear of others.
NOTE: In April, I gave a preliminary report of the hate crime statistics for Phoenix based on the numbers I received from the Phoenix Police Department. At that time, I believed that there were 81 hate crimes for Phoenix in 2007, versus the 80 that the FBI had recorded. It would mean only a small difference, between around 10 percent and 11.25 percent, but I strive to be accurate with such details. I'm having Phoenix double-check the 2007 stats for me, and will update this blog when they're available.