Attorney General Janet Reno urged Congress to pass legislation expanding the scope of hate crimes Thursday as the FBI reported 8,759 such incidents in 1996.
Law enforcement agencies across the country reported 5,396 hate crimes based on race, 1,401 based on religion, 1,016 on sexual orientation, 940 on ethnic background and six for multiple reasons.
Of 11,000 victims of hate crimes, 7,000 were attacked because of their race. That included 4,600 racially motivated attacks on blacks, 1,445 on whites and 544 on Asians and Pacific Islanders.
“These statistics show what we long believed is true: Hate crimes have long gone underreported,” Reno said at a news conference.
“Violent crime has dropped for five years in a row. But we are just beginning to grasp the problem of hate crimes, and how best to fight back. And we are not going to let up,” she said.
She said she had joined President Clinton in pushing for legislation now before Congress that would expand the definition of federal hate crimes to include those based on disabilities, gender or sexual orientation. Federal hate crimes now include only incidents based on race, color, religion and national origin.
The statistics, said Kim Mills of the Human Rights Campaign, a gay- rights group, show there is a need for a new federal law. “It’s not enough to collect statistics; people who commit these crimes against gays and lesbians have to face the same penalties,” she said.
The FBI said the figures in the report don’t necessarily indicate trends because the number of police agencies voluntarily reporting such incidents has grown significantly since the FBI first published hate-crime data in 1993.
“The numbers do not speak for themselves,” said Michael Lieberman associate director of the Anti-Defamation League and co-chair of the Leadership Conference on Human Rights’ task force on hate crimes. “What really really matters to us is the response of law enforcement to the individual act of hate violence.”
He noted that Miami police reported no hate crimes, New Orleans only one and the entire state of Alabama zero. Wide disparities in reporting may mean that some police forces need to better train officers in spotting and responding to hate crimes, Lieberman said.
The report for 1996 was compiled from more than 11,000 police agencies in 49 states - all but Hawaii - and the District of Columbia representing 84 percent of the nation’s population.
The 1995 report, which found 7,947 hate crimes, came from 9,500 police agencies in 45 states representing 75 percent of the American people.
In terms of incidents in 1996, 3,674 were anti-black, 1,106 were anti-white, 564 were anti-Hispanic, 1,109 were anti-Jewish, 757 were anti-gay men and 150 were anti-gay women.
Agencies reported 8,935 known offenders, of which 66 percent were white and 20 percent black.
Intimidation accounted for 39 percent of reported offenses, followed by destruction of property and vandalism at 27 percent, simple assault at 16 percent and aggravated assault at 13 percent. There were 12 murders associated with hate crimes.
California reported 2,723 offenses, one-fourth of the national total of 10,700, followed by New Jersey with 947 and New York with 920.
Last November Clinton held the first White House conference on hate crimes, and Reno said she had asked all 93 U.S. attorneys to appoint coordinators who will meet in Washington next month to map out strategy on combating such crimes.
She said the Justice and Education departments would also soon distribute hate-crime prevention manuals to help teachers with anti-bias training among young people.