MONTPELIER — A new report says the number of hate crimes reported by law enforcement in Vermont has gone up since 2013, but an official says the vast majority of hate crimes go unreported.
The report was put out by www.SafeHome.org, which describes itself as “a leading authority on home security,” among other things. The website used data compiled by the FBI from 2013 to 2017, which is the last year data is available.
According to SafeHome, the number of hate crimes in Vermont from 2013 to 2017 rose by 177% — the third highest increase in the country over that time. Of those reported, 51% related to race, 23% were related to sexual orientation, 17% were about religion and 9% targeted those with disabilities.
According to the FBI’s data, there were 34 hate crimes reported by law enforcement in Vermont in 2017, compared to 12 in 2013.
“I certainly believe, based on what I’m seeing and experientially, there certainly has been an uptick in hate crimes,” said Tabitha Moore, president of the Rutland Area chapter of the NAACP.
But she noted people are becoming more aware of what a hate crime is, so they are reporting more incidents that may not have been reported in the past. Also, Moore said people are paying more attention to hate crimes so those thinking of reporting one know the report will be taken more seriously than in the past.
Moore said the current political climate in this country is “begging” for people to come at each other in harmful ways.
“If you look at what’s happening nationally with our (presidential) administration and the way our president talks to people and treats people, the things that he’s done, he has the highest office in the land, and he’s making it clear that it is OK to treat people with utter disregard for their humanity on every level,” she said.
Moore said that’s playing a role in the increase in hate crimes. Another factor, she said, is those who want to keep the status quo, where victims of hate crimes stay silent, are now voicing how they really feel in terms of equality and fairness.
“So many people are comfortable with the way things were that as we start to change them you’re going to get push-back, that’s just part of the process,” she said.
Moore said the way to combat hate crimes is to continue to expose them. She said as more hate crimes come to light, more people learn about them and how they impact people, so it’s helping to raise awareness.
Moore noted the state is taking steps to educate its residents including the recent passage of a law that would create a working group looking at how to make the state’s schools more inclusive.
“I do think that will play a potential role in how people are educated,” she said.
Moore cited the recent decision by the Department of Motor Vehicles to include a third gender option on licenses as a way to be inclusive of those who may not identify as male or female.
Julio Thompson, director of the Civil Rights Unit at the Vermont Attorney General’s office, said the increase in hate crimes in the state is a combination of things. He said people now are acting out more than they would have years earlier. Thompson said there’s also an increased sensitivity to acts of bias in the state and a willingness to step forward and report such acts.
Thompson said his office has worked on bias incidents for years by developing relationships with community groups and training law enforcement on hate crimes.
While the number of reported hate crimes has gone up, Thompson said, the reported number doesn’t tell the whole story.
He said an incident may first get reported as a hate crime, but down the road a prosecutor or officer may learn more and not treat it as a hate crime. Conversely, he said the FBI data is only one set of data. Thompson said there’s a national crime victimization survey issued by the Department of Justice as well.
“Which is based not on police reports that are submitted and counted by the FBI, but in fact on a collection of information from victims who are asked if the crime they reported was motivated by bias. And the difference is quite stark. The FBI may report fewer than 10,000 hate crime incidents nationally per year. But through most of the 2000s, the report by victims (of hate crimes to the survey) was an average of 250,000 nationally,” he said.
Bor Yang, executive director of the Vermont Human Rights Commission, wasn’t available for an interview Friday. Yang sent a statement saying, “The HRC is incredibly concerned about the rise in hate crimes and is committed to ensuring that people of all races, nationalities, genders, orientation are treated fairly. We encourage anyone who witnesses hate crimes to call the police, the AG’s office and Human Rights Commission.”
As the 2020 Census approaches, the U.S. Census Bureau is calling on communities across the country, including in Vermont, to encourage residents to complete the form. The goal is to get as close to a complete count of residents as possible, which Michael Moser explained will help communities get their fair share of federal dollars.
Moser is the coordinator for the Vermont State Census Data Center in Burlington, and it is his job to ensure that as many people participate in the census as possible. Until the census launches in the spring of 2020, he said he will be increasing communications with the public to encourage participation. His big message is that every person counted matters.
“The census helps us distribute federal dollars back to the states, back to the counties, back to the cities and towns,” he said. “For every person who isn’t counted in Rutland, or Rutland County, that’s fewer federal dollars in the form of HUD grants, USDA grants, transportation grants. Federal programs rely on census data to determine funding for all these programs.”
Part of how Moser and the Census Bureau plan to reach Vermonters is by forming Complete Count Committees or CCCs. CCCs consist of locals hired to connect with every part of a town, especially the populations that have not historically responded to the census at high rates.
“The Complete Count Committee’s purpose is to communicate the purpose of completing the census to different groups in the state that are traditionally harder to get responses from,” Moser said. “Right now, the Census Bureau is preparing to open their Burlington office. ... I’m sure they’ve started the process of hiring hundreds of Vermonters around the state to begin the 2020 processes in the field.”
In many cases, the Census Bureau has already been in touch with towns and counties to prepare for their upcoming on-the-ground efforts. The Rutland Regional Planning Commission (RRPC) has helped the Bureau map out the county and identify population centers, or “designated places.”
Ed Bove, executive director of the RRPC, clarified that while the committee has helped the Bureau with its preliminary efforts in the area, the committee does not have a role in data collection or in designing the census form.
“We’re not the ones that are looking at the data or using it to influence any type of decision making for our towns,” he said.
Bove highlighted the importance of an accurate count in Rutland, which could lead to increased funding for transportation, housing, emergency and disaster response, environmental programs and more.
“A lot of the money the state of Vermont gets is from the federal government and it’s passed through to state agencies,” he said. “In a lot of cases, the more population you have the more funding you get.”
With the upcoming census recently in the national news, most recently because of the Trump administration’s previous effort to add a question about citizenship status to the form, Moser recognized that there is a heightened awareness and scrutiny about the process.
However, confusion over a potential citizenship question has caused fear within the immigrant community that could decrease their participation, which Moser said is not how the process is intended to function.
“The census is intended to count residents, not citizens, of our country, and there are plenty of people who are not citizens who reside in our country,” Moser said.
Late Thursday, the president abandoned his demand for the citizenship question, instead ordering federal agencies to compile the desired citizenship information through existing records, according to news reports.
As advertising for the census increases, the Bureau will create more CCCs across Vermont, including in Rutland County, to try and reach a full and accurate count.
“Every time someone in Rutland or someone in Vermont opts out of taking the decennial census, we are losing money that comes back to the state,” Moser said. “So the taxpayer dollars that we pay out of Vermont, we don’t get those back when someone chooses not to take the census because then they aren’t being counted.”
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