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Behind the Headlines: APA News Blog

Academic Version: Applying my personal experiences and academic research as a professor of Sociology and Asian American Studies to provide a more complete understanding of political, economic, and cultural issues and current events related to American race relations, and Asia/Asian America in particular.

Plain English: Trying to put my Ph.D. to good use.

November 30, 2009

Written by C.N.

Good News and Bad News: Hate Crimes in 2008

Each year, the Federal Bureau of Investigation releases its official report on Hate Crimes in the U.S. First, a little background — hate crimes are defined as a criminal offense committed against a person or property, which is motivated, in whole or in part, by bias against the victim’s actual or perceived race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, or disability, and that is formally reported to law enforcement. This definition is important in many ways, as I explain a little later.

Regarding the just-released data for 2008, in comparison to the data from 2007, there are good news and there are bad news. First, some of the good news:

  • The number of hate crimes committed against Asian Americans and Pacific Islander Americans declined from 188 incidents and 219 offenses in 2007, to 137 incidents and 162 offenses in 2008.
  • Similarly, the number of hate crimes committed against Hispanic Americans declined from 595 incidents and 775 offenses in 2007, to 561 incidents and 735 offenses in 2008.
  • The number of hate crimes committed against Muslim Americans also declined, from 115 incidents and 133 offenses in 2007, to 105 incidents and 123 offenses in 2008.

These are positive signs of progress and we should acknowledge them as such. Unfortunately there appears to be at least an equal number of bad news as well:

  • In total, the number of reported hate crimes are at their highest level since 2001. In 2008, there were 7,783 hate crime incidents and 9,168 hate crime offenses reported, an increase from 7,624 and 9,006 reported in 2007, respectively.
  • The number of hate crime crimes directed at Blacks increased from 2,658 incidents and 3,275 offenses in 2007, to 2,876 incidents and 3,413 offenses in 2008. Such anti-Black hate crimes are at their highest levels since 2001 and are pretty clear evidence that despite Barack Obama’s election, racism against Blacks is still alive and well in America.
  • Hate crimes based on sexual orientation are also at their highest level since 2001, increasing from 1,265 incidents and 1,460 offenses in 2007, to 1,297 and 1,617 in 2008, respectively.
  • Aside from the decline in anti-Muslim hate crimes, there was an overall increase in the number of hate crimes based on religious bias in general. For example, the number of hate incidents and offenses committed against Jewish Americans increased from 969 and 1,010 in 2007, to 1,013 and 1,055 in 2008, respectively.

To further put these hate crime numbers in perspective, we should note the specifics related to how they were collected. Specifically, as in years past, the vast majority of the law enforcement agencies who participated in the data collection (84.4% to be exact) reported absolutely zero hate crimes — that there were no hate crime incidents in their particular jurisdiction.

In addition, thousands of police agencies across the nation did not participate in the hate crime data collection program at all, including at least five agencies in cities with a popular of over 250,000 and at least eleven agencies in cities with populations between 100,000 and 250,000.

Many of these jurisdictions who did not participate or who reported zero hate crimes include areas in the South. I’m sorry, but I have a hard time accepting that there was only one (1) hate crime committed in the state of Mississippi, just two (2) in Georgia, and just four (4) in Alabama in 2008.

On top of this uneven and inconsistent participation and reporting on the part of police agencies, we should also note that, as sociological and criminological studies consistently point out, the majority of hate crime incidents are never reported to police at all — their victims stay silent. This is particularly true with many immigrant groups and communities of color, including Asian Americans.

That is, many victims may not be fluent in English and therefore feel that it is futile to report it to the police. They may also feel that the police would be unlikely to take their reports seriously for lack of cultural competency, or they may distrust the police entirely based on previous negative experiences with police in their area, or with corrupt police and government agencies back in their home country. Also, many victims may simply fear retaliation from the offenders if they report the incidents to police.

As you can see, the “official” data should be taken with a big grain of salt and almost surely represent an undercount — maybe even a significant one — of the real number of hate crimes committed in 2008. Unfortunately, in the quest for racial/ethnic/religious/sexual equality, American society still seems to be taking two steps forward, and two steps back.


April 2, 2009

Written by C.N.

More Support for Comprehensive Immigration Reform

You don’t need me to tell you that undocumented immigration is one of the most controversial and emotional issues in American society today. It is an issue that cuts across and divides members within a particular racial, ethnic, or cultural group. In fact, some of the most heated arguments that I’ve had about undocumented immigration has been with other Asian Americans.

Many critics of undocumented immigrants argue that the only realistic or effective solution is mass deportation of the estimated 12 million undocumented immigrants currently in the country. Scholars call this approach the “enforcement only” approach. On the other hand, others believe that in order to “cure the disease” rather than simply treating the symptoms is through the “comprehensive reform” approach.

Such proposals include securing points of entry at the border and criminal punishment for the most dangerous undocumented immigrants but just as important, emphasizes ways to deal with the undeniable need for immigrant labor within the U.S. economy, settling the status of the undocumented immigrants already in the country in a fair and humane way, working with sending countries on policies that reduce the push their citizens feel to come to the U.S.

Many Americans might assume that law enforcement officials around the country, particularly in the border states of California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas, are more likely to support the “enforcement only” proposals. But as Seth Hoy at the Immigration Policy Center writes in their blog Immigration Impacts, many in the law enforcement community are pleading for comprehensive reform:

In a recent Washington Post editorial, Phoenix Police Chief Jack Harris asserts that focusing his attention on real criminals rather than economic migrants has not only lowered the city’s crime rate, it has also enabled police to maintain a closer relationship with the communities they serve. For Harris, who likened border enforcement to bailing an ocean with a thimble, “the answer is not in Phoenix. The answer is in Washington.”

Don’t give me 50 more officers to deal with the symptoms. Rather, give me comprehensive immigration reform that controls the borders, provides for whatever seasonal immigration the nation wants, and one way or another settles the status of the 12 million who are here illegally — 55 percent of whom have been here at least eight years. For those whose profession it is, law enforcement sometimes seems like bailing an ocean with a thimble.

No one disagrees that violence, drug cartels and human smuggling on the border are real problems that warrant real and sensible solutions, but conflating drug smugglers with economic migrants is not effective or helpful. Effective border enforcement needs to be carried out in consultation with border communities—communities whose resources are currently being diverted from arresting actual violent criminals to “chasing bus boys around the desert.”

Most state and local police departments will tell you that in order to do their jobs effectively, they rely on community policing policies which encourage immigrants to step out of the shadows, report crimes and access police protection. According to the Major Cities Chiefs Association, a committee made up of police chiefs from across the country, cooperation from the immigrant community keeps crime rates lower.

Without assurances that contact with the police would not result in purely civil immigration enforcement action, the hard won trust, communication and cooperation from the immigrant community would disappear…Such a divide between the local police and immigrant groups would result in increased crime against immigrants and in the broader community, create a class of silent victims and eliminate the potential for assistance from immigrants in solving crimes or preventing future terroristic acts.

Certainly, the debate about the best way to address the undocumented immigration issue will continue. Nonetheless, I think the opinions of law enforcement officials on how they would like to see our government best address the issue carries a lot of weight.

On a lighter and not-quite-related note, Jon Stewart from The Daily Show recently had a brief video segment on patrolling the border, embedded below.