MDCR hosts virtual forum to teach residents about reporting hate crimes
The Michigan Department of Civil Rights hosted a forum this week to help the public understand how to report hate crimes and incidents of bias in the state.
Black people have been the victims of 30% of hate crimes in the United States over the last decade, according to figures from the U.S. Department of Justice. But those numbers may be underreported.
The data was shared at Thursday's virtual forum.
FBI supervisor Patrick Geahan was one of the presenters. He says the federal definition of hate crime must involve an act of violence motivated by bias.
“Something illegal has to have been done to start out with, and then that offense, that offense must be committed, or enhanced, because of that person's actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin, gender, disability, sexual orientation, or gender identity," he explained.
Geahan says a hate crime does not necessarily include the use of racially derogatory language or symbols.
"Let's say that we have someone driving one of those vehicles that we see far too often with various racist symbols on it," he added. "If they get into, say, a car accident with someone who is of a different race than than they are — the car accident likely wasn't perpetrated by the bias ... so we would not consider that a hate crime."
In that instance, despite the perpetrator showing significant bias, there has to be evidence that the incident was perpetrated because of that bias. If that evidence doesn't exist then the federal definition of a hate crime does not apply.
Alex Wyatt was also one of the presenters. She works in the Attorney General’s office as an advocate for victims of hate crimes. She says mistrust of law enforcement is one of the biggest barriers people have when thinking about reporting a hate crime.
"They may fear that they won't help at all, a lot of times these populations, some marginalized groups, come from different countries where law enforcement did not take them seriously," Wyatt said.
Other barriers to reporting hate crimes include fear of consequences and lack of awareness and accessibility.
"In many other crimes and other instances, the fear of retaliation is very real to a victim. 'How will it affect them? Will it get worse? Will they do something else?,'" she said.
Wyatt says its important to provide resources in languages other than English.
"If somebody cannot speak English how can they feel confident that they will be heard when they come to report. Why would they report it in the first place?"
The forum was part of a series the department is hosting over the next year to educate communities on how to report hate crimes.
To report a hate crime visit the Michigan Department of Civil Rights website.