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There's been a rise in suspected hate crimes in the U.S. since Israel-Hamas war

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

As we just heard, the authorities haven't yet determined that the shooting of three college students of Palestinian descent who are visiting Vermont for Thanksgiving was, in fact, a hate crime. But they and others in the community clearly suspect that it was. And as shocking as it was, it wasn't the only suspected hate incident since the war between Israel and Hamas began in October. Experts who track these kinds of events say there has been a noticeable increase in recent weeks. We called Alex Piquero to talk more about this. He is a professor of criminology at the University of Miami and the former director of the Bureau of Justice Statistics, which is the federal agency that keeps tracks of these kinds of things. Good morning, professor.

ALEX PIQUERO: Good morning, Michel. Happy to be with you.

MARTIN: So can you just give us a brief overview of hate crimes more broadly in the U.S.? And has that changed in recent months? I'm wondering, who generally are the targets, and who generally is committing them?

PIQUERO: That's a really good question and sometimes difficult to answer because we have hate crimes, and we have hate incidents. And both of them are reported differently to different agencies. That said, what we can see from nonfederal data that's tracked this over the last month and a half is we do see increases in both crimes and especially incidences against individuals of Jewish and Palestinian descent.

MARTIN: So because of the war between Israel and Hamas, most people - I think people would assume that most crimes and incidents are religiously based violence. But I take it that's not generally the case. It's still race. Is that accurate?

PIQUERO: That is correct. If you look at the long-term trends using the FBI's hate crime data, you see that the most common hate crimes are against race and ethnic origin.

MARTIN: But I take it you don't think hate crime or hate incident numbers are being reported accurately in general. And is that because you think they're underreported or overreported?

PIQUERO: They're actually underreported. And here's the problem. The FBI's data relies on law enforcement agencies to provide that information to the federal government. What we have a problem with is not every agency reports those data to the federal government because they're not required to do so. So you have different agencies reporting hate crimes every year or every other year to the federal government. What the Bureau of Justice Statistics data shows from the National Crime Victimization Survey is that 4 out of every 10 violent hate crime victimizations, Michel, are not reported at all, which means that whatever number we get from the FBI's hate crime data is an underreport. So in my mind, I don't know what the number is, but the number is way too high. And we need to encourage people who are victimized to report those incidents to law enforcement and then to get the services that they need to deal with it.

MARTIN: So let's talk a little bit more about this. I mean, there was outrage earlier this month after Elon Musk supported this false anti-Semitic conspiracy theory on social media. And, you know, of course, former President Trump has a long history of spreading derogatory racial and ethnic messages. And there have been other celebrities, frankly, who've been criticized for saying, you know, things like this. But do - how much impact do you think it has when leading politicians or celebrities, you know, make these kinds of messages? Do you think that it makes a difference?

PIQUERO: It certainly doesn't help the cause. I think what people who are in a position of leadership, position of power, position of recognition - you know, the onus is on them to set an example of leading with civility, of leading with humility and of leading with ethical morality. They - people look up to them to show a path forward. And they should be preaching positive views, not negative views against anybody. And one of the great things about our country, Michel, is we live in a country of diversity. We should be celebrating that diversity and encouraging conversation and encouraging cooperation and working together.

MARTIN: So let's say that these - some of these messages are already out there. And I take it, even though you believe these incidents are underreported, you do think it is accurate that there has been an increase in hate incidents or hate-motivated incidents directed at people of Jewish descent, people of Arab or Muslim affiliation, right? So...

PIQUERO: Yeah, and that's - various data sources that are not related to the government are tracking those, and they are reporting increases. But remember, Michel, they also could be reporting people who are actually reporting more of it. So we've got to be very mindful of that, too.

MARTIN: OK. So the question, then, is since some of this messaging is already out there, what would make a difference in counteracting it?

PIQUERO: I think people just have to bear in mind that, you know, these are human beings on both sides of the equation. And we have to dial down the rhetoric and dial down the vile and the hate and try to come up with some sort of path where we all agree on. And that takes leadership. And it takes people who don't agree with some of the things going on in the world to set a tone and set a message of one of civility and acceptance.

MARTIN: That is Alex Piquero. He's a criminologist at the University of Miami and the former director of the Bureau of Justice Statistics. That's a federal agency, as we said, that keeps track of these kinds of incidents. Professor Piquero, thanks so much for sharing these insights with us.

PIQUERO: My pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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