How hate crimes data can help save lives

How hate crimes data can help save lives
5 min read
29 Apr, 2019
Comment: Better hate crimes data would show police and governments which communities are most at risk, and how resources should be spent, writes CJ Werleman.
A better understanding of location, perpetrator and victim would inform preventative measures [Getty]
Joris De Bres was New Zealand's race relations commissioner for more than a decade in the years spanning 2002 to 2013, taking on the role shortly after the September 11 attacks in New York and Washington DC.

What alarmed him most was the uptick in threats and acts of violence against Muslims in the island archipelago country, where adherents of the Islamic faith account for a mere one percent of the total population.

De Bres told Reuters he repeatedly asked the government and police to create a central database for recording hate crimes, but was told it "wasn't a priority".

On 15 March 2019, a white nationalist terrorist armed with a high-calibre, semi-automatic weapon, walked into Al Noor Mosque, and then later the Linwood Islamic Center, during Friday prayers, leaving 51 Muslims dead, and dozens seriously injured.

Could a central hate crime database have prevented this mass casualty terrorist attack?

It's impossible to speculate, but what we do know for certain is that tracking incidents of racially motivated hate crimes does save lives, and could very well prevent the next Christchurch mosque terrorist attack, Tree of Life Synagogue massacre or any other of the many hundreds of hate-motivated attacks western countries have witnessed in the past year or so.

There's never been a more crucial time for government and law enforcement agencies to compile, analyse, and distribute hate crime data

When I spoke with Arjun Sethi, author of American Hate: Survivors Speak Out, he told me, "Hate crime tracking allows us to see who's being targeted, where, by whom, and on what basis," adding, "Good data can literally save lives."

It should go without saying that when governments have an appreciation for the magnitude of racially motivated crimes, and, more specifically, an understanding of location, perpetrator and victim, then police and community resources are better equipped to counter the problem, and more able to prevent further attacks.

Clearly, there's never been a more crucial time for government and law enforcement agencies to compile, analyse, and distribute hate crime data, especially given the surge in threats and attacks against Muslims in the United Kingdom, Europe and Australia since the Christchurch mosque attack.

In fact, the UK experienced a 593 percent increase in anti-Muslim hate crimes in the week after the massacre in New Zealand, with a total of 95 incidences reported in the first six days following the attack. The group Tell Mama found that 89 percent of these incidences contained direct references to Christchurch and/or "featured gestures such as mimicking firearms being fired at Muslims".

The first ever study of hate crime patterns in NSW, Australia, clearly demonstrates the usefulness of compiling and analysing such data, with researchers finding that more than 70 percent of religiously motivated crimes in the country's largest state targeted Muslims. Crimes motivated by race, ethnicity or religion accounted for 81 percent of all hate crimes reported to police.

Read more: We told you the threat is white supremacy. You ignored us

The authors of the study conclude by arguing law enforcement agencies across the country have shown "striking neglect" in failing to "monitor and measure bias crime," and attributing it to the "indifference" of respective state governments.

This failure to analyse and distribute hate crime data is a problem in the United States, too, with only 12 percent of the nation's 2.4 million suspected racially motivated crimes being reported by the country's police departments to the FBI. These figures come from an exhaustive study conducted by Carnegie-Knight News21, which reviewed thousands of pages of federal court documents, FBI data and state and federal statutes, alongside conducting hundreds of interviews of law enforcement officials.

This problem is further exacerbated by the fact police departments report more than half of all reported hate crimes as "inconclusive". Given it's only verified reports that are typically passed onto the FBI, one can see just how little actual hate crime data is actually being passed on, and then actioned by federal law enforcement agencies.

Absent data, and absent the allocation of policing and community resources that this data can prioritise, racial minorities are being restricted in how and when they can access public spaces, which ultimately serves to undermine social cohesion; our greatest tool in preventing terrorism.

"For Muslims across western cities, their 'right to public space' has been challenged," according to the authors of a 2016 study titled, Geography of Islamophobia in Sydney: Mapping the Spatial Imaginaries of Young Muslims.

According to a survey cited by the authors, young Muslims in Sydney have a spatial awareness of areas within the city where Islamophobic incidences are most likely to occur, and as such become spaces, or "mental maps," of exclusion for them, with the regions of Sutherland, the North Side/Eastern Suburbs, and the Upper North Shore identified by young Muslims as locations they try to avoid when possible.

Racial minorities are being restricted in how and when they can access public spaces

As such, law enforcement agencies and community organisations have an opportunity to now take this data and implement a number of measures that can make young Muslims feel safer and more accepted. These include providing added protection to Muslim places of worship, particularly during religious holidays, while also implementing "locally focused anti-racism interventions that confront hot spots of Islamophobia," according to the authors.

"There is a desperate need to track these incidences, longitudinally and consistently, so that we can not only better understand who is being targeted and how, but also help targeted individuals and communities build resilience," Amarnath Amarasingam, a counterterrorism analyst and senior research fellow with the Institute for Strategic Dialogue, told me.

With right-wing individuals or groups were responsible for all terrorist attacks on US soil in 2018, and with most of these acts targeting Muslims and other racial minorities, the need for hate crime data that provides governments and law enforcement agencies better intelligence to combat this growing terror threat has never been greater.

CJ Werleman is the author of 'Crucifying America', 'God Hates You, Hate Him Back' and 'Koran Curious', and is the host of Foreign Object.

Follow him on Twitter: @cjwerleman

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.