Statement of Jesselyn McCurdy and Nadia Aziz for the U.S. Senate Committee on the Judiciary on Combatting the Rise in Hate Crimes

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“Combatting the Rise in Hate Crimes”
March 8, 2022

Chairman Durbin, Ranking Member Grassley, and members of the Senate Judiciary Committee:

Thank you for the opportunity to submit a statement for the record for this critical hearing. On behalf of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, a coalition of more than 230 national organizations committed to promoting and protecting the civil and human rights of all persons in the United States, we thank you for holding this hearing on “Combatting the Rise in Hate Crimes.” We write to express our thoughts regarding the federal government’s role in combating hate crimes. Hate crimes continue to rise in the United States. According to data released by the FBI, 2020 had the highest number of reported hate crimes in 20 years. Through proper and thorough implementation of the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act, including the Jabara-Heyer National Opposition to Hate, Assault, and Threats to Equality (NO HATE) Act, as well as through adequate funding for and strong leadership of the Community Relations Service (CRS) at the Department of Justice, the federal government can play a crucial role in combating and responding to hate crimes and incidents.

The Department of Justice Must Implement the Jabara-Heyer NO HATE Act Fairly and Robustly
The Jabara-Heyer NO HATE Act, named after two hate crime victims whose murders were prosecuted under hate crime statutes but not reported in hate crime statistics, aims to improve hate crime reporting through a series of grants for states and units of local government. The Jabara-Heyer NO HATE Act passed as an amendment to the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act, which Congress enacted in response to a dramatic increase in hate crimes and violence against Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) communities. The law is meant to address the problem of drastic underreporting of hate crimes. Under the Hate Crime Statistics Act of 1990, the Department of Justice is required to collect and report data on hate crimes. According to the most recent edition of the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s (FBI) Hate Crime Statistics report, law enforcement agencies participating in the Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) program reported 8,263 hate crimes in 2020. Survey data from the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS), however, suggests the true number of hate crimes far exceeds the reported total. Both policy makers and stakeholders agree that there is a chronic and serious underreporting of hate crimes, and that failure to report accurate data translates into failure to provide policy remedies and much-needed community support. To address this issue, the federal government must implement this provision fairly and equitably, holding law enforcement agencies accountable to the communities they serve and empowering those communities to craft approaches that fit their needs.

In addition to incentivizing law enforcement to report hate crimes, the Jabara-Heyer NO HATE Act also authorizes the attorney general to make grants for state-run hate crime hotlines and issue guidance to states on best practices for implementing these hotlines. Hate crime victims decide not to report their victimization to law enforcement or government authorities for many reasons, including reluctance to interact with police. When hate crimes go unreported, it not only affects the public’s understanding of the nature and extent of hate crimes in a given jurisdiction but can also prevent hate crime victims and their communities from receiving important social services. The state-run hate crime hotlines can help address both problems. We encourage the department to prioritize the development of hotlines that specifically cater to the needs and concerns of victims and their communities. While state governments will manage the hotlines, our experience suggests that the best approach is to ensure that hotlines maintain a complete, and clearly articulated, independence from law enforcement and the criminal-legal system.

The department should also recommend that state-run hotlines deploy trauma-informed approaches to ensure appropriate resolution of calls and bolster community confidence for utilization of the hotlines. Furthermore, state-run hate crime hotlines should be encouraged to routinely share call statistics with community organizations on the disposition of calls, impacted state geographical regions, and information on which communities may be experiencing hate incidents and crimes. This information permits community organizations to develop and coordinate real-time community-driven strategies to address community animus and foster healing for victims and their communities.

A key part of the Jabara-Heyer NO HATE Act is the community- and victim-centered approach to combatting hate. When there is trust and a strong relationship between law enforcement or state agencies and community organizations, the response to hate crimes is improved. Not only are community organizations able to demonstrate the impact of hate and share what hate looks like to them, but they are also able to meet the unique needs of their community members in the wake of hate incidents. Multiple provisions of the Jabara-Heyer Act give the Department of Justice discretion to award grants to states and units of local government that prioritize community-based approaches to hate crimes, which can in turn allow those entities to make subgrants to nongovernment, community-based organizations that are working to improve responses to hate crime. To advance the priorities of holding law enforcement accountable and empowering communities in the process, we encourage the Department of Justice, in its implementation of the Jabara-Heyer NO HATE Act, to prioritize state and local programs and activities that encourage law enforcement cooperation with communities and promote community-based responses to hate crime. The department can do so through the awards it makes under various subsections of the law, including the grants to assist agencies and state and local governments in conducting activities to prevent, address, or otherwise respond to hate crimes, and the grants regarding the state-run hate crime hotlines. We also encourage the department to consider how it can advance these priorities in other aspects of the Jabara-Heyer NO HATE Act’s implementation.

Further, we value the Jabara-Heyer Act’s implicit acknowledgement of the limitations to traditional criminal-legal and law enforcement responses to hate crimes. For example, one critique of traditional methods of hate crime enforcement is the reliance on penalty enhancement in hate crime convictions and sentencing. Although this critique tends to focus on hate crime penalty enhancement in state criminal-legal systems, it is relevant that subsection (h) of the Jabara-Heyer Act authorizes “alternative sentencing,” i.e., participation in educational classes or community service as a condition of supervised release, in federal prosecutions under the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr., Hate Crimes Prevention Act, codified at 18 U.S.C. § 249. Implied in this provision is both an acknowledgement of the limitations inherent to traditional methods of hate crime enforcement as well as a commitment to community-based approaches that attempt to address not only the harms that hate crimes inflict, but also the underlying causes. We believe this reading should inform other provisions as well.

The Jabara-Heyer NO HATE Act is a first step in achieving meaningful mandatory hate crime reporting and prioritizing law enforcement accountability and community empowerment in the federal, state, and local responses to hate crime. We value the department’s partnership in the fight against hate crimes and are committed to supporting the implementation of this important law. Congress must continue to provide critical oversight to ensure fair implementation of the Jabara-Heyer NO HATE Act, as well as the entire COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act.

Congress Must Provide Oversight to Ensure Full Transition to the National Incident Based Reporting System

In addition to implementation of the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act and the Jabara-Heyer NO HATE Act, Congress must provide oversight to ensure the full transition of all 19,071 law enforcement agencies to the National Incident Based Reporting System (NIBRS). The FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting system transitioned to NIBRS-only data collection as of January 1, 2021. However, the most recent data published by the FBI shows only 63 percent of law enforcement agencies contribute to NIBRS. This count includes 18 states that only submit NIBRS data, and 28 states that contribute NIBRS and the previous Summary Reporting System (SRS) data. Due to the fact that not all law enforcement agencies transitioned to NIBRS by January 1, 2021, we expect a significant undercount of hate crimes in the 2021 UCR hate crime data.

Accurate and reliable hate crime data is critical to addressing the scourge of hate crimes effectively and responding to the needs of communities. Full implementation of NIBRS must include sufficient compliance for the data to be meaningful and actionable for communities and law enforcement agencies.
Full implementation would provide a more accurate and comprehensive picture of what communities across the country are experiencing, as well as allow for victim advocates to better identify resources and respond to the needs of those targeted for hate. Congress must conduct robust oversight of the NIBRS implementation to ensure that hate crime data is accurate and trustworthy.

The Senate Must Fully Fund CRS and Confirm Paul Monteiro as its Director
Another important tool for the federal government to utilize in combating hate crimes is the Community Relations Service (CRS). CRS was created within the Department of Justice by the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and provides services that improve communities’ abilities to problem solve and respond to conflict. At a time when hate crimes are on the rise, and when police and community relations are a source of concern in some neighborhoods, CRS is more critical than ever. We have seen CRS in action across the country working with local law enforcement and other public safety officials, local and national civil rights organizations, and religious leaders at times when communities are in crisis. When communities are at greatest risk of being torn apart by discrimination, hate incidents, and hate crimes, CRS trains local community leaders to help keep the peace at rallies and marches. In the aftermath of a hate crime, CRS helps law enforcement engage with the communities targeted for hate, helping local law enforcement and government officials develop sustainable mechanisms for engaging with community leaders to help prevent and respond more effectively to hate in the future. CRS’s regional offices also allow its staff to understand the communities they are privileged to serve and to respond quickly to their needs. In short, CRS assists in creating long-term and sustainable social change.

The previous administration sidelined CRS, diminishing its staffing, refusing to appoint a director, and proposing to eliminate the agency entirely and reassign its work to the Civil Rights Division. It is essential that CRS be allowed to continue its critical mission as an independent agency with adequate staffing and funding as well as a strong director. We urge senators to support robust funding for CRS in the upcoming appropriations legislation and to confirm Paul Monteiro as CRS director. As we mentioned in a previous letter to this committee, Mr. Monteiro’s dedication to serving others and working with communities across the country demonstrate his readiness to lead CRS at a time when we need it most.

As hate crimes continue to increase, the federal government must rise to the occasion and respond effectively and comprehensively to this trend. Equitable implementation of the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act, including the Jabara-Heyer NO HATE provision, full transition to NIBRS (and oversight of such transition), and full-throated support of CRS are three ways that Congress and the administration can work to address the rise in hate crimes.