WASHINGTON - Hate crime incidents in the United States rose last year by nearly 8 percent, the FBI reported yesterday, 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.
Although the noose incidents and beatings among students at 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, were among the agencies reporting.
Nevertheless, the Jena incidents and a rash of subsequent noose incidents around the country spawned civil rights protests in Louisiana and, last week, at Justice Department headquarters in the capital. The department said it investigated the incidents 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 the 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, including 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.
For more information go to the FBI website at fbi.gov.
© Copyright 2007 Globe Newspaper Company.