Opinion: Hate crime stats tell a disturbing tale

When FBI released its report “Hate Crimes Statistics, 2017” earlier this week, Srinivas Kuchibhotla’s name was nowhere to be seen.

Yet his widow, Sunayana Dumala, knows his murder in Olathe, Kan., was a hate crime. She didn’t need the report to tell her that. But America does. We need hate crimes detailed and categorized in ways that make sense so that law enforcement can track trends and, most importantly, react.

That goal has not been realized.

As a grieving widow, Dumala was unfazed to learn that national media used her Indian-born husband’s murder to illustrate the inadequacies in the U.S. Justice Department’s compiling of the heinous things people do to each other, sparked by nothing more than someone’s actual or assumed race, their ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, disability, gender or gender identity.

Her husband is gone, killed in the type of outrageous act of violence that the FBI’s hate crime’s data, despite limitations, indicate is occurring at increasing rates, up 17 percent from 2016.

Kuchibhotla was shot at least four times in February 2017 by a man who called him a terrorist and yelled, “Get out of my country” before pulling the trigger. The Garmin engineer was sitting having a beer when he was attacked in a neighborhood strip mall bar.

Having sifted through the hate crimes report, reporters assumed that the Olathe police department was among the many jurisdictions that hadn’t reported because the case didn’t show up in tables listing incidents by city.

But Olathe police did report the murder as a hate crime, and they quickly provided me the information that it passed to the Kansas Bureau of Investigation, which then would have sent the findings up the chain to the federal bureau.

Other such discrepancies are being found elsewhere.

The federal government obviously knows about the Kuchibhotla murder. It is highlighted elsewhere on a Justice Department website as an example of a hate crime. Federal prosecutors brought and convicted the shooter on federal hate crimes charges.

Meaningful tracking of hate crimes is hampered by under-reporting and a lack of standardized definitions. There are nearly 18,000 law enforcement agencies in the U.S. For this year’s report, only 16,149 filed, and they tabulated more than 7,100 hate crimes. And that was progress, an uptick of nearly 900 more agencies voluntarily making the reports than in 2016.

Still, what’s contained in the statistics is alarming. Anti-Semitic acts were up 37 percent, part of what experts believe is a third yearly increase in overall bias-motivated acts.

Law enforcement at all levels and government officials deserve solid information if they are to assert unequivocally that something more is afoot, a dangerous growth in racist, nativist and other hate-based violence in a context where inaccurate information about immigrants is spreading.

A few members of Congress who will take their seats in January peddled barely veiled anti-immigrant and racial notions in their midterm campaigning. And of course the great fount of calumny is the president himself.

Words can influence hateful acts, poisoning the air we all breathe.

Since the killing, Kuchibhotla’s widow has begun her own movement, via the Facebook page Forever Welcome. She’s also the subject of a short documentary.

“What matters to me is that he can never come back,” she said of her husband. “And that we need everyone to be welcomed and to be loved.”

Writes for Tribune Content Agency.

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