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.”