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Hate Crimes On The Rise In Florida

A vandal spraypainted "F--- Islam" on the sign outside the Al Amin Islamic Center in Boynton Beach in November.

Three people were killed in 2015 because of what they looked like. In November 2016, signs saying “whites only” and “colored” were taped on the wall above water fountains at a Jacksonville high school. The same month in another high school, a line of graffiti painted on a wall read, "Yall Black ppl better start picking yall slave numbers. KKK. 4Lyfe."

Hate crimes are up in Florida.

According to the latest “Hate Crimes in Florida” report published by the Florida Attorney General’s Office, years of decline saw a reversal in 2015, a trend that is expected to continue into 2017, including a notable spike of incidents after the election of President Donald Trump. 

While the 37 hate incidents are different than documented charges of hate crimes (which require identifying a person to file charges against), state numbers take at least a year to be collated and published.

The state saw 102 documented hate crimes in 2015, up from 73 in 2014. These are crimes like aggravated assault, intimidation or destruction of property that are committed against another person because of their race, color, religion or sexual orientation. If a crime is found to be a hate crime, the charge is upgraded, along with an increased penalty that is tied to the upgraded charge.

Most of the crimes reported in 2015—55.9 percent—were motivated by the race or color of their victim. That was followed by crimes motivated by sexual orientation and religion at 20.6 percent and 17.6 percent, respectively.

Miami-Dade County saw 22 hate crimes, the greatest number in the state. Volusia County (the Daytona Beach area) came in second with 13 hate crimes and Orange County (Orlando area) with 10 hate crimes. More than a third of all hate crimes in the state were reported in South Florida.

The Attorney General’s Office did not make anyone available for an interview about the report.

The numbers in the state’s report do not reflect crimes that go unreported or crimes that aren’t classified as hate-related. The report also relies on data reported by local law enforcement agencies through the Unified Crime Reporting system, which not all law enforcement agencies use.

Heidi Beirich with the Southern Poverty Law Center says hate crimes have always been grossly undercounted.

“Hate crimes remain a piece of racism and hatred that is that legacy [of legalized segregation and discrimination] in the United States. And if we want to battle back against that, we at least need to know the extent of the problem and documenting hate crimes is one way to do that," said Beirich.

Beirich holds up the vast disparity in the numbers of hate crimes nation-wide published by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, at almost 300,000, and the FBI’s 7,000 as evidence of the lack of understanding of the issue.

“It’s really important to get accurate data here because we can’t address a social problem like hate violence unless we know exactly how much of it is going on, where it is occurring, what kinds of folks are being attacked,” said Beirich. “That is an important statistic to know about when you’re talking about targeting police department resources and so on.”

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