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Law enforcement renews push against hate crimes

Law enforcement agencies are renewing efforts to get the public to report hate crimes, as incidents increase nationwide and the Israel-Hamas war sparks tensions.

Sherri Onks, special agent in charge at the FBI Jacksonville, said Jacksonville is seeing fewer hate crime threats than larger cities, but it still takes only one incident to shake the community, she said.

“No one should be afraid to walk down the street. No one should be concerned that they can be targeted in an act of violence because of how they look, where they’re from, or any other part of their identity,” Onks said.

The new campaign comes months after the highest profile hate crime in recent memory in Jacksonville, where a gunman killed three Black people at a Dollar General Store in the New Town community in August.

Onks said the campaign will consist of posters at several places including schools, houses of worship, billboards and more. Community outreach also will be involved.

The total number of hate crimes in the U.S. rose from 7,036 in 2018 to 11,634 in 2022 — a 60% increase, the FBI says. Most of the incidents last year — 59% — were motivated by race. Crimes based on religion and sexual orientation made up 17% of incidents.

In Florida, hate crimes rose nearly 10% from 2018 to 2022, the FBI reported. A total of 155 incidents were reported in Florida in 2022, up from 141 in 2018. More incidents in Florida were motivated by religion and sexual orientation compared with national averages: 25% sexual orientation, 23% religion and 41% race.

READ MORE: Top South Florida officials keeping close watch on hate crimes, threats

Onks said the actual number of hate crimes is probably higher than the data indicates, since many go unreported. Reasons include fear of retaliation from an attacker, embarrassment or fear of the government.

“Our goal is to protect all people, all Americans, so today we are encouraging potential victims of hate crime to seek help, and we want to ensure that you know where to go,” Onks said.

A man in a police uniform speaks behind a podium.
FBI Jacksonville
Nassau County Sheriff Bill Leeper speaks Thursday, Nov. 30, 2023, about a campaign to get the public to report hate crimes

Nassau County Sheriff Bill Leeper said that if police officers build relationships within the community, that can go a long way in getting people to report hate crimes.

“Hate crimes threaten everybody who worships, looks, speaks or shares the same beliefs as the victims, and if the bias against these groups is not condemned by law enforcement, distrust and resentment thrive in the victim’s communities, undermining efforts to maintain peace and security,” Leeper said.

The FBI has developed a new hate crime threat response guide that can help people understand whether they have been victims.

You can also report hate crimes by calling 1-800-call-FBI (1-800-225-5324) or online at tips.fbi.gov.

If it’s an emergency, call 911.

This story first appeared in Jacksonville Today.

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