Long overdue, President Obama signed the Hate Crimes Act into law this week.
As it affects Broward, consider that Broward County’s law enforcement agencies reported the largest amount of hate crimes in Florida in 2008.
According to the Office of The Florida Attorney General Hate Crimes in Florida Annual Report, 25 hate crimes were reported in Broward County while Miami-Dade and Palm Beach Counties tied for the second most hate crimes with 18 each. 11 of Miami-Dade’s hate crimes occurred in Miami Beach.
Nine of Broward’s hate crimes were based on sexual orientation with seven classified as assaults against people and two were destruction of property. Miami-Dade County had four crimes based on sexual orientation and Palm Beach County had three.
“It’s a double-edged sword for us because no one likes to be the number one county for hate crimes, but on the other hand we have been telling people for over a year to report these crimes,” said Broward Sheriff’s Office Hate Crimes Anti-Bias Task Force Chief Richard Wierzbicki. “Our county also had the most number of agencies reporting. It says something about us doing it right in Broward and willing to accept reports from victims.”
Only 72 law enforcement agencies, out of the 415 statewide, reported 182 total hate crimes in 2008, and 12 of those agencies were in Broward County. Statewide data showed that 35 of the hate crimes were based on sexual orientation, about 20 percent of the total hate crimes.
The number of overall hate crimes reported in 2008 was also low. This is the 17th year the hate crimes report was commissioned, and the second lowest total of statewide hate crimes reported during that time period. Data tables also show a more than 30 percent drop from two years ago.
“We are highly encouraged that the number of hate crimes have decreased and think it is an excellent sign for the future,” said Office of the Florida Attorney General Information Specialist Shannon Knowles.Since 1990, Florida’s agencies have reported 5,084 hate crimes.
The Attorney General’s Office of Civil Rights, which compiles the report, also conducts hate crimes training for law enforcement throughout Florida and has developed programs for elementary, middle and high school students to teach them how to recognize hate crimes, how the law protects victims of hate crimes, and how such crimes affect Florida communities.
The goal of training and enlightenment is prejudice reduction. The goal of prejudice reduction is to tame the tides of violence against persons because of who and what they are. The truth be told, all crime is hate crime. It is an act of social violence against an otherwise innocent fellow citizen. But hate crimes reveal an invidious discriminatory bent that needs a strong cross-check. So task forces in these regards, such as those set up by BSO, or contemplated by the AG, should be applauded. They are steps in the right direction.
Commander Wierzbicki had it right when he stated "breaking the cycle of hate among the youth in communities is the way to prevent hate crimes from happening."