From lynching threats to anti-Semitic bomb scares: Why aren’t police agencies reporting ‘hateful acts’ as hate crimes?

“Right now we don’t have to follow the federal guidelines for reporting. That’s a problem," says State Senator Nickie Antonio.
Published: Feb. 25, 2019 at 10:53 PM EST
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CLEVELAND, OH (WOIO) - A transgender woman brutally murdered and dumped in a pond. A Muslim teenager called a “terrorist” and then shot in the arm. A Jewish Community Center and preschool threatened with bombs and guns.

Public officials condemned these heinous acts as hate crimes, but according to police records they weren’t.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation collects and publishes hate crime statistics each year. According to the most recent statistics, hate crimes across the United States spiked 17 percent in 2017.

The Hate Crime Statistics Act mandates hate crime data collection, but there are many crimes that aren’t being counted – many because police aren’t reporting them into the federal program.

While it’s mandatory for federal agencies to report hate crimes to the FBI, participation from local and state law enforcement agencies is voluntary.

“They talk about all these numbers as if they’re accurate, as if they’re correct – and they’re not,” said Cynthia Deitle, a former FBI agent who spent two decades with the agency, including 10 years working specifically on hate crimes in New York City.

The reason those numbers can’t be accurate, Deitle said, is because of a huge lack of participation in reporting by some departments and undercounting by others.

Data from 2017, the most recent year available, showed that around 90 percent of the 18,000 or so law enforcement agencies in the U.S. reported to the FBI. But the vast majority of them – more than 87 percent – reported that they had zero hate crimes.

The Cleveland 19 Investigative Unit combed through FBI Hate Crime Statistics dating back to 2013 and found several local incidents that don’t appear in the data.

In September 2016, a Brunswick High School football standout said he was called the n-word and threatened with lynching.

The Brunswick Police Department does report hate crime data to the FBI, but in 2016, the department told the feds zero hate crimes were committed in the city.

(Source: FBI)
(Source: FBI)

And Brunswick isn’t the only place where we found this happening.

In November 2016, a 16-year-old Lakewood High School student was shot while walking home from his part-time job at night.

The Muslim teen was wearing a traditional Islamic head covering called a kufi.

He told police he was approached by a man who called him a “terrorist" and accused him of being a part of the Taliban, and then shot the teen in the arm.

“Clearly because of the kufi he was wearing, he was singled out for that,” said Julia Shearson, Executive Director of the Cleveland chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

In Ohio, hate crimes aren’t considered stand-alone offenses. Instead, prosecutors rely on an Ethnic Intimidation law from the 1980′s to increases penalties for other crimes when they are committed against a person or group specifically because of their “race, color, religion or national origin”.

Denzal Johnson, the suspect in the Lakewood shooting, was indicted on multiple criminal charges including a felony count of Ethnic Intimidation - a charge that was later dropped when Johnson agreed to plea guilty to Attempted Felonious Assault.

But in 2016, the Lakewood Police Department told the FBI it was the city hate crime free.

Lakewood also reported zero hate crimes in 2017 - the same year a home on Belle Avenue was vandalized with swastika graffiti.

“I’m troubled by the fact that we do not count that, that that doesn’t show up anywhere," said State Senator Nickie Antonio (D-Lakewood), who lives just down the street from the vandalized home. "There was a hateful act to intimidate an entire group of people that is not recorded somewhere for happening, and then it’s not labeled as a hate crime.”

(Source: WOIO)
(Source: WOIO)

In a news release, Lakewood Mayor Michael Summers called the swastika graffiti a “violent and repulsive act” and said “Hateful acts must be condemned.”

But in the police report, this “hateful act” wasn’t designated a hate crime.

In an e-mail to Cleveland 19, Police Chief Tim Malley wrote, “Hate crimes and intimidation require the act to be perpetrated against a victim due to the victims protected class. While a hateful symbol, nothing in the report indicates the victims were targeted because of a protected class. In fact one was painted in the street 3-4 houses away.”

“Whether or not that family is Jewish, there is a clear message that goes to people in the community,” said Antonio. “We know what it means to see a swastika painted somewhere. It means that there is hateful intention and fear mongering going on for an entire group of people.”

New FBI data shows hate crime incidents targeting Jews and Jewish institutions in the U-S jumped up 37 percent between 2016 and 2017.

But what you won’t find counted in that data are the bomb threats made against the Mandel Jewish Community Center and Preschool in Beachwood in 2017 - just two of more than 150 similar threats made towards Jewish facilities that year.

(Source: WOIO)
(Source: WOIO)

In an emailed threat to the Mandel JCC, the suspect stated a pressure cooker bomb was hidden inside the facility and would be detonated on a Jewish holiday. The suspect wrote, “The shrapnel will maim people and children who are not killed in the explosion.” and any “surviving Jews” would be killed with guns.

Records show the Beachwood Police Department doesn’t report hate crime statistics to the FBI.

But even if they did, these bomb threats were never coded by police as hate crimes, despite being condemned as such by Congress and the White House.

When asked why the department didn’t label the threats hate crimes, Beachwood Police Chief Gary Haba told Cleveland 19, “We knew it was a hoax, so we didn’t code it as such.”

You won’t find the 2013 murder of a transgender woman in Olmsted Township in the FBI data either.

(Source: Family)
(Source: Family)

Cemia “Ce Ce” Dove was stabbed more than 40 times. Her body was then tied to a cement block and thrown into a pond.

Prosecutors said Andrey Bridges, the man convicted in the killing, “became enraged when he discovered Dove was transgender.”

But Bridges was never charged with a hate crime.

The “Hate Bias” section on the police report was also left blank.

Police told us, “Based on our investigation, there was nothing to indicate that she was specifically targeted because of her sexual orientation.”

Former FBI agent Cynthia Deitle says the problem with leaving out crimes or failing to identify where they are happening is that prevention becomes extremely difficult.

“If I were a chief or a sheriff or special agent in charge at the FBI, that’s what would worry me… [that] I don’t know. I don’t know what’s happening in my jurisdiction or my territory,” she said. “I don’t know if I have a problem that’s going to manifest itself in a Dylann Roof in Charleston. I don’t know because no one’s given me data I can rely upon.”

(Source: U.S. Department of Justice)
(Source: U.S. Department of Justice)

States hate crimes laws – or lack thereof – also contribute to reporting problems.

As of January, 29 states had laws requiring some form of data collection on hate crimes.

Ohio is not one of them.

“Right now we don’t have to follow the federal guidelines for reporting. That’s a problem," said Senator Antonio. "It’s a problem because [if] we don’t know, then how many of these crimes are actually being committed? If we count, if we know this, then law enforcement knows what they’re dealing with.”

Antonio says she has been working to make it mandatory for local law enforcement agencies to report to hate crimes to the FBI.

“It’s taken a couple of sessions of general assemblies already, but you know what, as long as it takes, it’s the right thing to do," said Antonio.

Senator Antonio is also working to update Ohio’s antiquated Ethnic Intimidation law so that it will be identified as a hate crime law that will also include protections for the LGBTQ community and people with disabilities.

She also recently introduced Senate Bill 11, known as the “Ohio Fairness Act,” which would prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity in employment, housing or public accommodations.

Antonio says Ohio remains one of 28 states without clear, inclusive non-discrimination protections for the LGBTQ community.

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