The Justice Department is prosecuting the fewest hate crimes in 10 years, says USA Today. Civil rights activists cite noose hangings and other racial incidents to question the government’s commitment. Some members of Congress and activists are demanding that the Justice Department focus more attention on hate crimes in light of recent cases such as the kidnapping, torture, and beating of a black woman in West Virginia by six white people and the violence after the hanging of nooses in a schoolyard tree in Jena, La.
Despite high-profile cases, the decline mirrors an overall decrease in hate crime reports, says department spokesman Erik Ablin. FBI figures show that hate crime reports fell 11 percent from 1997 to 2005, the most recent year available. The number of reports doesn’t necessarily reflect the number of hate crimes, says Steve Wessler of the Center for the Prevention of Hate Violence. Victims often are afraid to report the crimes, and police agencies report inconsistently, he says. “Racial violence is not decreasing,” Wessler says. “Either the resources are not going in to prosecute these cases or there isn’t a willingness to bring these cases.” Ten-year Justice Department data show a 60 percent drop in annual referrals of hate crime investigations to prosecutors.