WASHINGTON Hate crime incidents in the United States rose last year by nearly 8 percent, the FBI reported Monday, as racial prejudice continued to account for more than half the reported instances.
Police across the nation reported 7,722 criminal incidents in 2006 targeting victims or property as a result of bias against a particular race, religion, sexual orientation, ethnic or national origin or physical or mental disability. That was up 7.8 percent from the 7,163 incidents reported in 2005.
In Utah there were 35 hate crimes reported for 2006. However, FBI special agent Juan Becerra said the statistics should be used as a base guideline rather than an average picture of hate-motivated crimes in the state.
"Some agencies could be over-reporting and some agencies could be under-reporting," Becerra said.
And only a fraction of the state's 112 law enforcement agencies that report crime statistics to the federal government each year filed numbers for hate crime incidents and offenses
According to the FBI, in 2005 only 14 reported a total 44 incidents. The 35 incidents in 2006 were reported by 21 Utah agencies.
Although noose incidents and beatings among students at a Jena, La., high school occurred in the last half of 2006, they were not included in the report. Only 12,600 of the nation's more than 17,000 local, county, state and federal police agencies participated in the hate-crime reporting program in 2006, and neither Jena nor LaSalle Parish, in which the town is located, was among the agencies reporting.
Nevertheless, the Jena incidents, and a rash of subsequent noose incidents around the country, have spawned civil rights protests in Louisiana and last week at Justice Department headquarters in Washington, D.C.
In Utah, there has been one such incident earlier this year, which Becerra said the FBI is investigating as a possible hate crime. In that case a black man found a noose by his car at a Magna gas station.
In the Jena case, the department said it investigated the incident but decided not to prosecute because the federal government does not typically bring hate crime charges against juveniles.
The Jena case began in August 2006 after a black student sat under a tree known as a gathering spot for white students. Three white students later hung nooses from the tree. They were suspended by the school but not prosecuted. Six black teenagers, however, were charged by LaSalle Parish prosecutor Reed Walters with attempted second-degree murder of a white student who was beaten unconscious in December 2006. The charges have since been reduced to aggravated second-degree assault, but civil rights protesters have complained that no charges were filed against the white students who hung the nooses.
"The FBI report confirms what we have been saying for many months about the severe increase in hate crimes," said the Rev. Al Sharpton, who organized Friday's march. "What is not reported, however, is the lack of prosecution and serious investigation by the Justice Department to counter this increase in hate crimes." Sharpton called for Attorney General Michael Mukasey to meet with members of the Congressional Black Caucus and civil rights leaders to discuss this matter.
The Justice Department says it is actively investigating a number of noose incidents at schools, workplaces and neighborhoods around the country. It says "a noose is a powerful symbol of hate and racially motivated violence" recalling the days of lynchings of blacks and that it can constitute a federal civil rights offense under some circumstances.
The FBI report does not break out the number of noose incidents, but the two most frequent hate crimes in 2006 were property damage or vandalism, at 2,911 offenses, and intimidation, at 2,046 offenses. There were 860 aggravated assaults and 1,447 simple assaults. There were three murders, six rapes and 41 arsons. Other offenses included robbery, burglary, larceny and motor vehicle theft.
The 7,722 criminal hate crime incidents involved 9,080 specific criminal offenses and include 5,449 against individuals, 3,593 against property and 38 classified as against society at large. An incident can involve attacks on both people and property.
As has been the case since the FBI began collecting hate crime data in 1991, the most frequent motivation was racial bias, accounting for 51.8 percent of the incidents in 2006. That was down slightly from the 54.7 percent in 2005.
Also in 2006, religious bias was blamed for 18.9 percent of the incidents; sexual orientation bias for 15.5 percent; and ethnic or national origin for 12.7 percent.
Of the 7,330 offenders identified by police, 58.6 percent were white, 20.6 percent were black, 12.9 percent were of unknown racial background and other races accounted for the remainder.
The greatest percentage of incidents, 31 percent, occurred near residences or homes. Another 18 percent occurred on highways or streets, 12.2 percent at colleges or schools, 6.1 percent in parking lots or garages, 3.9 percent at churches, synagogues or temples. The remainder occurred at other specific locations, multiple locations or unknown locations.
Lack of full participation by the more than 17,000 police agencies around the nation somewhat undermines year-to-year comparisons.For instance, in 2004, 12,711 agencies reported 7,649 incidents. In 2005, only 12,417 agencies reported and incidents dropped 6 percent to 7,163. But in 2006, agencies reporting rose to 12,620 and incidents climbed 7.8 percent to 7,722.
Contributing: Deborah Bulkeley; Geoffrey Fattah