In late September 2010, as part of the FBI Citizen’s Academy in Indianapolis, agents passed around photos from a cross burning that took place four years earlier in Muncie.
Members of the class were appalled when they learned that not only did someone burn a cross as a way to intimidate a family – biracial children lived in the home – but they were also surprised that the offenders had taken photos of the cross burning and had shared those photos with family and friends.
It wasn’t until 2007 that someone who knew both the offenders and the victims gave those photos to law enforcement.
These and other types of hate crimes are regularly reported to the FBI, which annually compiles statistics. Statistics for 2009 were released in late 2010. Indiana ranked 27th, between Oklahoma at 26th and Wisconsin at 28th, in the number of hate crimes reported.
Kyle Shroyer ultimately pled guilty in November 2007 to the March 2006 cross burning, and in January 2008 he received a 15-month sentence, according to FBI reports. Kyle Milbourn was found guilty by a jury in May 2008, and was sentenced to 121 months.
In July 2008, another unrelated cross burning took place in Muncie, according to FBI reports. Three men involved with that incident pled guilty in September 2009, and each was sentenced to about a year in federal prison followed by two to three years of probation.
A number of other cross burnings have taken place around Indiana in the last few years, according to FBI reports. Other incidents include one in Mishawaka in September 2007, and another in Elkhart in May 2008.
Milbourn has since appealed, and the 7th Circuit affirmed his sentence in April 2010. In that decision, USA v. Kyle Milbourn, No. 08-2525, Judge Terence T. Evans gave a brief history of how cross burnings have symbolized racial hatred, and said that these kinds of acts will not be tolerated.
As hate crimes like these continue to make news, including a case in Bloomington in November where rocks were thrown at Chabad Jewish Student Center at Indiana University and other anti-Semitic acts took place near the student center in the course of a month, the FBI continues to collect this information and help local law enforcement when necessary.
While the FBI has released hate crime statistics since 1995, the bureau also cautions against using these numbers for statistical analysis.
The statistics likely don’t include every crime that could be considered motivated by discrimination, but it is the most comprehensive listing of its kind. It also serves as a reminder that crimes motivated by bias of a victim’s race, religion, sexual-orientation, ethnicity/national origin, or disability continue to occur.
In 2009, 2,034 law enforcement agencies reported 6,604 hate crime incidents involving 7,789 offenses, according to the FBI’s report. There were 6,598 single-bias incidents that involved 7,775 offenses, 8,322 victims, and 6,219 offenders.
The six multiple-bias incidents reported in 2009, what the FBI defines as “an incident in which more than one offense type occurs and at least two offense types are motivated by different biases,” involved 14 offenses, 14 victims, and six offenders.
California topped the list for number of hate crimes reported in 2009, with 1,015 incidents reported. It was followed by New York with 626 reported incidents, New Jersey with 549 reported incidents, Massachusetts with 322 reported incidents, and Michigan with 314 reported incidents. Ohio ranked sixth with 297 reported incidents, Kentucky ranked 14th with 150 reported incidents, and Illinois ranked 18th with 129 reported incidents.
In 2008, Indiana ranked 30th. The top five states were California with 1,381 reported incidents, followed by New Jersey with 744, New York with 570, Michigan with 560, and Ohio with 345. Illinois ranked 19th with 120 reported incidents, and Kentucky ranked 28th with 64 reported incidents.
In Indiana in 2009, 139 agencies participated in reporting. Of those, 17 reported a total of 55 hate crimes. The number of participating agencies has steadily increased in the last few years. In 2006, 124 agencies participated; in 2007, 127 agencies participated; and in 2008, 131 agencies participated.
The number of reported hate crimes in Indiana has also fluctuated. In 2006, 39 incidents involving bias were reported; in 2007, 40 incidents were reported; in 2008, 61 incidents were reported; and in 2009, 55 incidents were reported.
But it’s the number of agencies participating that really matters, said Andrew Northern, supervisory special agent for the Southern District of Indiana, based in Indianapolis.
“We caution people to take into account the fact that there’s different numbers of participating agencies from year to year,” which can also lead to varying interpretations of what fits the category, he said.
However, he added, “a larger number of agencies participated in 2009 – that number is growing. Those agencies provide the information voluntarily after it is brought to their attention. The primary objective is to generate reliable information.”
The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act was signed into law Oct. 28, 2009, and Northern said this act could affect the numbers reported in 2010 and future years.
The measure expands the 1969 United States federal hate-crime law to include crimes motivated by a victim’s actual or perceived gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability. The bill also gives federal authorities greater ability to engage in hate crimes investigations that local authorities choose not to pursue.
“It would provide more opportunities for prosecutions than in the past,” Northern said. “The Department of Justice, the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the FBI work hard to make sure those who commit hate crimes are brought to justice.”
Indiana remains one of five states without its own hate crimes statute to protect victims. While Indiana law requires hate crimes to be reported, there is no law to affect sentencing in these cases. Hate crimes legislation has been introduced in recent sessions, but it has not ultimately passed.
It is unclear whether hate crimes legislation will be introduced in the 2011 session; no bill on this topic has been introduced as of Dec. 30. The latest bias crimes bill to be introduced in Indiana was in 2009.•