An increase in the number of hate-related incidents reported within Washington, D.C., jumped to about 62 percent between 2015 and 2016, numbers that have left local authorities perplexed and members of the targeted communities concerned about their future safety.
Sixty-six incidents were reported in 2015 compared to 107 in 2016. Though racially motivated crimes were down 26 percent in 2016 from 2015, crimes committed based on ethnicity, religion, gender and sexual orientation all increased in 2016.
Crimes based on ethnicity or national origin increased from three to 12 between 2015 and 2016. Reported crimes based on religion increased from five to 18. Crimes based on sexual orientation, which have the highest reported number in the past five years, increased from 27 to 40 between 2015 and 2016. Crimes based on gender identity or expression increased from 10 to 19.
In a March 10 press conference addressing the city’s efforts to combat hate and bias-related crimes, Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) said her administration has made combatting these issues a top priority across the District.
“We value diversity and inclusivity and want all of our residents and visitors to feel safe. No matter your race, your faith, your sexual orientation, your gender identity, your background — you should be able to live, work and play in Washington, D.C., without fear of violence or discrimination,” Bowser said at the press conference.
Bowser added that an important aspect of combatting hate-related incidents is the public coming forward to accurately report them.
“My administration will continue fostering a culture that encourages people to come forward when they are the victim of discrimination or a bias-related crime because in order to properly address these issues, we need everyone to feel safe reporting them,” Bowser said.
Metropolitan Police Department Chief of Police Peter Newsham said the MPD was disheartened to see the rise in hate crimes in light of launching a number of initiatives to combat these crimes, including starting a focused outreach effort to the District’s Jewish and Islamic institutions, distributing flyers in six different languages to the District’s immigrant communities and increasing specialized resources to support victims of hate crimes.
“Although the number of reported hate crimes is only a small fraction of the overall crime in our city, we think it is important for everyone to know about this increase so we can collectively work on addressing it,” Newsham said in a press conference. “We will not accept this as the new norm.”
Newsham also addressed the role of the 2016 election in the increase of bias-related crimes across the nation.
“When I saw the concern that swept through our communities in the aftermath of the November election, I knew we had to send a message that MPD’s values have not and will not change,” Newsham said.
Mónica Palacio, the director of the D.C. Office of Human Rights, said monitoring these incidents and establishing a protocol is crucial to reducing the incidents of hate crimes.
Palacio said the OHR is expanding access to programs for transgender individuals who have been the victim of hate crimes, as well as programs for crisis intervention, counseling, medical forensic care and legal advocacy.
“We are reminded every day of the negative impacts of bias through the discrimination complaints we investigate,” Palacio said at the press conference. “However, we believe that when employers are equipped with the right information, discrimination can be avoided.”
Palacio also announced that the OHR is partnering with MPD to provide services to victims of hate crimes as soon as they contact MPD. All District patrol officers will have a card with information directing victims to OHR services as they respond to 911 calls.
Georgetown University Rabbi Rachel Gartner said she has seen increased instances of anti-Semitism, both through her own experiences and those of her colleagues and members of her community.
Two Jewish schools in the D.C.-Metro area received bomb threats last month, and according to Newsham, of the 18 religiously motivated hate crimes in 2016, 12 were perpetrated against Jewish individuals.
“I think it’s hard to say whether or not anti-Semitism is on the rise. We clearly know that anti-Semitic incidents are on the rise and it is very unsettling,” Gartner said. “It’s shifted our perspective a little bit, because seeing it is kind of an eye-opener. It makes you feel a little bit insecure, wondering what’s going to come next.”
Despite being saddened by the increase in reported incidents in the past year, Gartner urged members of the Georgetown community to see beyond the incidents against just the Jewish community.
“For me, this bias is just a piece of everything that we’re seeing. Apathy, in the very least and misguided fear and baseless hatred of refugees are all a part of it,” Gartner said. “As we fight one of these things we need to fight all of them.”
Gartner said that despite the differences in the communities at the receiving end of hate-related crimes, all communities should act together to combat bias.
“I do not feel that the Jewish community is going through the level of threat as some other communities,” Gartner said. “At the same time, I wouldn’t want us to forget that we need to stand up for each other and with each other.”
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