It’s imperative to report hate crimes
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OpinionGuest Columnist

It’s imperative to report hate crimes

Hate crimes are not only an attack on the victim, they threaten and intimidate an entire community.

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

The number of people reporting they’ve been a victim of a hate crime in Pennsylvania nearly doubled beween 2019 and 2020, according to the FBI’s annual hate crime statistics report. That’s why the FBI Pittsburgh Field Office is engaged in a multifaceted statewide effort to build public awareness of hate crimes and encourage reporting to law enforcement.

The FBI is the lead investigative agency for criminal violations of federal civil rights statutes. A hate crime is a traditional offense, like murder, arson or vandalism, with the added element of bias. A hate crime is defined as “a criminal offense against a person or property motivated in whole or in part by an offender’s bias against a race, religion, ethnicity/national origin, disability, gender, gender identity or sexual orientation.” Hate crimes are the highest priority of the FBI’s civil rights program because of the devastating impact they have on families and communities. The Bureau investigates hundreds of these cases every year, but hate crimes are often underreported to both federal and local law enforcement.

We’re very concerned about the lack of reporting when it comes to hate crimes. We want the community to know we are here for them. This campaign is a way to enhance collaboration between the FBI and our local and state partners, not just in law enforcement, but with the many community groups who work and see victims on a daily basis that are too scared to report the crime. The more information we can get from the community, the more trust each side will earn, and we’ll all be better able to attack the problem head on.

The FBI has been coordinating efforts with various leaders, including those at the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh, and other diverse communities to identify and engage vulnerable populations through the channels and platforms that are most effective for any given organization. The partnership we’ve formed with the Jewish Federation since the shooting at the Tree of Life building in 2018 has been invaluable. We want you to feel comfortable reporting these types of crimes to us without hesitation. I can tell you that according to the 2020 Hate Crime Report, as part of its Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Program, anti-Jewish hate crimes made up 14% of the hate crimes reported in all of Pennsylvania. Keep in mind, agencies only voluntarily report these statistics to the FBI. That’s why we also need your help.

Hate crimes are not only an attack on the victim, they threaten and intimidate an entire community. The FBI works closely with state, local and tribal authorities on investigations, even when federal charges are not brought. FBI resources, forensic expertise and experience in identification and proof of hate-based motivations often provide an invaluable complement to local law enforcement hate crime cases.

All law enforcement, including the FBI, is challenged every day to balance the civil liberties of U.S. citizens against the need to investigate activities of possible criminal conduct. No matter how offensive to some, we are keenly aware that expressing views is not a crime by itself and that the protections afforded under the Constitution cannot be compromised. Non-threatening hate conduct is protected by the First Amendment and the FBI does not investigation that conduct.

If you believe you have been the target or victim of a hate crime or other civil rights violation, contact the FBI at 1-800-CALL-FBI (225-5324) or the FBI Pittsburgh at (412) 432-4000 or submit a tip online at tips.fbi.gov. Tips can remain anonymous and can be made in an individual’s native language. You can also report them to your local law enforcement agency as well. PJC

Michael D. Nordwall is the special agent in charge of the FBI’s Pittsburgh Field Office. Prior to this assignment, Nordwall served as a section chief in the Criminal Investigative Division at FBI Headquarters in Washington, D.C.

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