Recently obtained statistics from the Phoenix Police Department show that hate crime in Arizona's most populous city continues its upward trend, with a 17.4 percent jump in bias incidents from 2009 to 2010.
The PPD reported 115 such incidents in 2009. In 2010, there were 135.
The gain is at least smaller than last year's spike of nearly 30 percent from 2008 to 2009. In 2008, the PPD reported 89 hate crimes, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation's Uniform Crime Reports.
Hate crimes have been increasing steadily since 2006, when there were 60 hate crimes reported by the PPD to the FBI. In 2007, there were 80. This means that from 2006 to 2010, the numbers have more than doubled, a whopping 125 percent increase.
Though I don't have the statewide data for 2010 yet, last year I noted in this blog that hate crimes have been up in Arizona overall, bucking a national trend showing a decrease in such crimes, according to the FBI.
Traditionally, bias incidents are under-reported, though Phoenix tends to be better at documenting these crimes than some other localities.
Naysayers may bring up the recent controversy over the PPD's kidnapping numbers. However, the city panel that investigated those statistics found there were more kidnappings than had been reported by the PPD, not less.
The PPD has a two-detective bias crimes unit, which also works graffiti cases.The definition the unit uses in classifying bias incidents states that,
"A hate crime is a criminal act against a person or property in which the perpetrator chooses the victim because of the victim's real or perceived race, religion, national origin, ethnicity, sexual orientation, disability or gender."
That "hate crime" label essentially allows prosecutors to seek increased sentencing, if a jury or a judge agrees that biased motivation was an aggravating factor in the crime. Hate crimes are particularly odious as they target an entire community on the basis of one or more of the factors listed above.
The stats for 2010 show anti-Black crimes to be the most common in Phoenix, with 40 such incidents. Next are anti-gay crimes, at 29, followed by anti-Hispanic, at 18, and anti-Jewish, at 14.
PPD spokesperson Steve Martos told me that bias crime detectives have "no discernable pattern" that would explain the rising numbers. However, they suggest that increased community outreach by the PPD could have led to a corresponding increase in bias incidents being reported.
Another factor is a little more obvious, to me at least.
The Grand Canyon State has a well-deserved reputation for being the "state of hate," what with its demonizing of the undocumented (who are mostly Latino) and the blanket atmosphere of intolerance that pervades Sand Land, a.k.a., "the white man's last stand.".
We can thank such politicos as state Senator Russell Pearce, Governor Jan Brewer, and Attorney General Tom Horne for helping to encourage this climate of bigotry.
But they are not responsible for it. They have merely capitalized on it. And it existed prior to the noxious rise in nativism here.
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Indeed, the current numbers are not record-breaking. In 1997, the total number of hate crimes reported for Phoenix peaked at 217. The numbers declined in 1998 to 170 incidents. And dipped still further in 1999 to 139.
Additionally, I should point out that the incidence of hate crimes is higher in other states, but that doesn't let Arizona off the hook.
Because over the last four years we've seen hate crimes advance in this state's most populous city 125 percent, at a time when the national trend is in the opposite direction.
Ultimately, the blame is on the individuals who live here. Not that all of us commit hate crimes, of course. But too many of us are indifferent to them. And looking the other way feeds intolerance, just as an unwatched campfire can beget a forest-wide inferno.