The FBI says that Vermont has the highest amount of reported “hate crimes” since the mid-1990s, when such statistics began. But do reported hate crimes amount to actual crimes?
In 2017, Vermont had 34 reported hate crimes, up from 25 from 2016 and eight in 2015. The previous high was 32 reports in 2005. According to FBI statistics, 18 were race-related, eight regarded sexual orientation, six pertained to religious orientation, and three related to people with disabilities. Nationally, hate crimes are reported to be up 17 percent in 2017, compared to the prior year.
A poll by VPR and Vermont PBS revealed that 40 percent of Vermonters feel that racism needs to be further addressed, whereas 13 percent said too much is being done, and 16 percent said racism isn’t a problem.
Some Vermont incidents include
In 2016, a Trump sign with a swastika was found near a Jewish Hillel Center. One student interviewed stated that she was disturbed that the election of Trump might entice more hate crimes to come. The crime was never solved.
More recently, former state Rep. Kiah Morris, an African-American, resigned from office over alleged instances of racism and threats. Vermont media reported the allegations as fact despite potential contradictions.
What happened to Rep. Kiah Morris is a crisis. VNRC & @VoteGreenVT are among the undersigned organizations consciously evaluating how we can better support and create racial equity and fairness in VT through our daily work. #vtpoli https://t.co/r7gO7gQly8
— Vermont Natural Resources Council (@VNRCorg) September 4, 2018
Upon further investigation, local police determined that no chargeable offense could be determined, and local residents suggested that alleged threats made by Morris’ husband may have been the real cause of her resignation.
Do reports equal crimes?
Amanda Tidwell, writing for The College Fix, reported that not all hate crime reports equal actual hate crimes. In her report, she cited 17 reported hate crimes that turned out to be hoaxes.
“Over the last year, it seems as if more campus hate crimes turned out to be hoaxes than legitimate acts of hate,” she wrote. “Schools tended to be fertile ground for overzealous students looking to prove there is hate where none exists.”
Among the hoaxes listed, a University of Michigan student told police after the 2016 election that a white man demanded she take off her hijab or he would light her on fire. The school issued an immediate alert, declaring it an act of “hate and intimidation.” Upon further investigation, police determined that the whole incident never happened, and yet no charges were filed against the student for fabricating the incident.
People from both sides of the political aisle allege that such hoaxes occur. When Deserae Morin — a Vermont conservative candidate for the Chittenden 9-1 House district — reported that she received a death threat in the mail, some people tweeted that her story might be made up.
I mean, you guys know that it’s easier and you’re less likey to be caught if you just type it out and print it, right? I hope Deserae wore gloves when she thumbed through all those magazines.
— sam rakes (@nofreehandle) October 16, 2018
Adam Silverman, public information officer for the Vermont State Police, said all investigations look at all angles, but he stressed that it’s important not to make any assumptions.
“Any time a crime is reported to the Vermont State Police, investigators consider all possible suspects until they are able to make a final determination of responsibility,” he wrote in an email to True North. “That said, it would not be any more ‘fair to assume’ that a certain percentage of hate-crime reports are fake than it would be to assume a certain percentage of any reported crime, such as a break-in or an assault, is fake.”
Silverman said police are studying how hate crimes are tracked and reported, “from the initial intake of an incident to a law-enforcement agency, to how it is coded within the record management system, to how victims are identified.”
“This comprehensive review will allow us, as a state, to understand the scope of the problem and to report more accurately, which in turn will create new training opportunities and understanding for all of law enforcement to work with the most marginalized communities,” Silverman said.
Professor Brian Levin, director of the Center for the Study of Hate & Extremism for California State University, San Bernardino, said, “Overall we saw a rising tide lift all ships and most notably they were anti-semitic attacks.”
He suggests that some of the increase in hate crime reports is due to improved reporting methods.
“Where we’re seeing these big increases are in states that were early adopters of meaningful data collection. And then maybe there were some issues where their system needed a bit of a tune-up, but they had an established reporting infrastructure to work from,” Levin said.
Levin added they’ve identified almost 30 hate crimes over the last about two and a half years that were confirmed to be false. That compares to around 13,000 documented reports. He did acknowledge there could be more hoaxes.
“That doesn’t mean there aren’t false reports that we haven’t established, and many of these hate crimes do not involve arrested offenders,” he said. “But nevertheless, that’s the universe of what we could confirm.”