Politics

Media Reports on Hate Crimes Fuel Misconceptions of Bias

DENVER– Media reports here this month are proclaiming that Colorado saw a 10 percent rise in hate crimes over the past year. Religious discrimination — it is suggested –is raging out of control. Such reporting, however, reflects not the truth but rather the increasingly transparent agenda of a desperate and aging victim industry.

From its front page, The Denver Post proclaimed, "Hate Crimes Up 10% in State."  Similarly, the city’s other major paper, the Rocky Mountain News declared, "Colo. Hate Crimes Up 10 Percent, Religious-based Incidents Jump."

The source of outrage? An FBI report concluding that between 2005 and 2006, the U.S. saw a 7.8 percent increase in the number of hate crimes reported, from 7,163 incidents in 2005 to 7,722 last year. 

In Colorado, a state with nearly 5 million residents, the FBI report found that the number of hate crimes reported rose from just 125 in 2005 to 138 last year.   Reporting of hate crimes involving religion also rose, but just barely, from just 22 in 2005 to 42 in 2006.  Meanwhile, race-related hate crimes statewide saw no increase, with 59 reported both years, and headlines made no mention of the fact that ethnicity-bias crimes dropped 30 percent, from 27 in 2005 to 19 in 2006.

Despite the benign Colorado findings, the numbers have been the source of much hysteria, compelling Bruce DeBoskey, regional director of the Anti-Defamation League, to sound the alarm bells of intolerance in a press release. "We’re seeing a tremendous increase in religiously based hate crimes in Colorado," he told a reporter.

A tremendous increase? In Denver, a city of nearly 567,000 residents and a total metropolitan population of more than 2.4 million, law enforcement agencies reported just one religious-based hate crime. This was a fact neglected by the media.   While the News mentioned it in the tenth paragraph of its 12 paragraph report, the Post didn’t reference it at all.   

Instead, print and broadcast reporters universally focused on an alleged outbreak of intolerance in Colorado Springs, a city 65 miles to the south.   According to the Post, the ethnically and religiously diverse community of nearly 400,000 was experiencing a "surge" in religious-based crimes — representing the highest increase in the state.  

But the FBI report revealed that reported incidents rose from just two to 12. According to Colorado Springs Police Lt. Skip Arms, who spoke to both the News and the Post, "with the thousands of calls we take," the figures were "so small that there really is no significance to them."

Not only that, but it’s questionable whether many of the crimes characterized as religiously-based can even legitimately be considered such. Arms told the Post that crimes reported to the FBI included "graffiti with some religious overtones to them.   There is not any specific target to any specific religion or denomination or anything like that."

Reporters could have led with these points, but instead they chose to endorse damaging misperceptions about the current state of racial and religious tolerance. By raising hysterics, DeBoskey was just following the national lead of the Rev. Al Sharpton, who in a yawner of predictability took to the streets of Charleston, West Virginia, to denounce what he called a "severe increase in hate crimes." According to an Associated Press report, he did so with several hundred followers marching at his side and for the purpose of condemning "the lack of prosecution and serious investigation by the Justice Department to counter this increase in hate crimes."

As proof of America’s continued racism, Sharpton focused on the racial strife plaguing Jena, Louisiana. Things turned sour there in 2006, when a black student discovered nooses hanging from a tree.   While three white students were suspended from school for their involvement in the incident, this wasn’t enough for activists who wanted the students charged under federal law with hate crimes.

Subsequently, six black teens carried out a retaliatory assault on a white student that left him unconscious.   While attempted second-degree murder charges were later reduced to aggravated assault, it wasn’t enough for Sharpton and his minions, who still believed that the prosecution was excessive. They remained silent, however, when federal authorities declined to charge these students with hate crimes.

Clearly, Colorado and Louisiana have vastly different histories and live different cultural realities.   But together they represent a reality experienced in nearly every community across America. The overwhelming majority of their residents have never — and will never — engage in a hate crime.

While it’s easy to blame bigotry for our woes, clearly we’ve got bigger problems to deal with. While just a few thousand American blacks were the targets of hate crimes last year, the FBI reports that more than 800,000 were victims of violent crimes.  

Ultimately, DeBoskey and Sharpton find themselves in a precarious but lucrative position. They must construct a reality where discrimination and bigotry are the prevailing source of our societal problems. Their pocketbooks and entire livelihood depend on perpetuating such a myth.

Savvy reporters should attempt to get on the payroll.


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