FBI’s ‘Stop the Hate’ campaign urges Pittsburghers to report hate crimes
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FBI’s ‘Stop the Hate’ campaign urges Pittsburghers to report hate crimes

Swanson said it’s important that hate crimes are reported not just to local police departments, but to the FBI.

The Tree of Life building was the site of a deadly hate crime on
Oct. 27, 2018. Photo by Adam Reinherz
The Tree of Life building was the site of a deadly hate crime on Oct. 27, 2018. Photo by Adam Reinherz

Hate crimes are underreported, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and its newly launched campaign, “Stop the Hate,” was created to urge victims to report incidents to law enforcement.

The campaign will include a variety of public outreach initiatives in Pittsburgh and other cities, including advertisements on buses and social media, and in regional newspapers, like the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Tribune-Review and Pittsburgh Jewish Chronicle.

“It’s always been a concern,” FBI Supervisory Special Agent Tim Swanson told the Chronicle, “but in light of what’s been going on in society, the FBI has decided to focus on hate crimes and civil rights violations, making it a national threat priority for the upcoming year.”

Last year, more than 10,000 people reported they were the victim of a hate crime, according to the FBI’s annual hate crime statistics report, released last month. More than 7,700 criminal hate crimes were reported to the FBI in 2020, representing an increase of about 450 incidents from 2019, according to CNN. And although the number of incidents increased, there are fewer agencies reporting hate crimes to the FBI than in previous years.

The FBI defines hate crimes as “crimes motivated by prejudice based on race, gender and gender identity, religion, disability, sexual orientation or ethnicity.”

While federal hate crime laws exist, not every state has hate crime statutes, which might explain why they are underreported nationally, Swanson said.

In Pennsylvania, hate crimes are termed “ethnic intimidation” and are defined in Title 18, Section 2710, of the commonwealth’s crimes code as acts “motivated by ill will or hatred” toward a victim’s or group’s “race, color, religion or national origin.”

Swanson said the Pennsylvania law “is narrow in scope, which doesn’t cover a lot of different things that some federal civil rights statute do.”

Because of the difference between state and federal laws, Swanson said it’s important that hate crimes are reported not just to local police departments, but to the FBI.

“If we don’t know something occurred, it’s hard for us to take action,” he said. “Our lane is enforcing the laws and statutes that are out there, so if people don’t tell us things happen, it’s hard for us to get engaged, difficult for us to build community trust and difficult for us to bring victims closure.”

In Pittsburgh, there is a simple, organized system in place for members of the Jewish community to report hate crimes via the Jewish Community Security department of the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh, Swanson said.

Shawn Brokos, director of Pittsburgh’s Jewish Community Security, said she appreciates when community members report incidents to her, whether they fit the statutory definition of a hate crime or not.

“Reporting is just so important,” she stressed.

Both Brokos and Swanson said they don’t expect community members to know whether an incident technically constitutes a hate crime or not — they just want people to report instances of violence, harassment or intimidation.

“There are nuances,” Swanson explained. “There was a stabbing at a McDonald’s in downtown Pittsburgh over the summer. The offender was an African American, the victim was a white 12-year-old. Everyone said it was a hate crime. It doesn’t make it a hate crime, though, just because the victim and offender are different races. We spent a lot of time looking at it and seeing if anything was said beforehand, what was said after, what did the video show. We really get pretty granular. In that case, it was just an assault.”

Pittsburgh was the site of the most violent attack on Jews in U.S. history, when a gunman murdered 11 worshippers at the Tree of Life building on Oct. 27, 2018. Brokos said there is no doubt that the Jewish community continues to be the highest targeted religious group.

“This year, 58% of threats in the religious category were directed at the Jewish community,” Brokos said. “Last year, that number was 63%, so it’s gone down a little, but it provides me with no comfort whatsoever because Jews continue to be the highest targeted religion.”

In fact, Brokos noted, 9% of all hate crimes nationally were directed at the Jewish community.

As a result, she said, it’s important that every incident is reported.

“We track every incident because it’s just that important,” she said. “There are a handful of crimes that constitute a hate crime; regardless, it’s still critical information to help protect our community.”

Swanson urged victims and witnesses to report anything that might be a hate crime to the National Threat Operations Center at 1-800-CALL-FBI or tips.fbi.gov. Tips can be filed anonymously.

“From my perspective,” Brokos said, “the takeaway is that the Jewish community continues to be the most targeted, faith-based community. We need a much better, robust, reporting system in place. We do an excellent job in the Jewish community, but we need increased awareness.” PJC

David Rullo can be reached at drullo@pittsburghjewishchronicle.org.

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