A seminar was held on Sept. 24 in the Bayonne Public Library to discuss hate crimes and bias incidents, including how to report them, and what’s being done to reduce the number of crimes targeting people with specific demographic traits.
Bayonne’s local NAACP chapter and the Friendship Baptist Church, conceived of the event. Officials were soon on board, including members of the Hudson County Prosecutor’s Office and the New Jersey Division of Criminal Justice.
A rash of bias incidents have occurred in recent years.
Bayonne resident and local NAACP member Roxanne Hilliard, who helped coordinate the event with county and state law enforcement agencies, said that in the wake of these incidents it’s time for residents learn how the reporting system works.
“We brought everyone in one room today to talk about these issues as a community,” Hilliard said. “It’s important that people understand the significance of things that have happened in this city, and what’s being done about it.”
Hilliard addressed recent bias incidents, noting that many involve young people, as was the case in incidents of vandalism in Bayonne.
In July, three teens were arrested and charged with spray-painting swastikas and other references to a neo-Nazi group throughout Bayonne. Eighteen-year-old Jeremy Marion, 19-year-old Seth Lupianez, and a juvenile male referenced the “Atomwaffen Division,” a neo-Nazi organization connected to murders, terrorist conspiracies, and other criminal offenses.
Less than three months prior, police reported that a noose was found hanging from a tree in Dennis P. Collins Park. A suspect was never named, and no arrests were made.
A then-20-year-old Bayonne resident, Jonathon Hussey, pleaded guilty in 2016 to spray-painting the exterior of St. Herny’s Church basement, with phrases such as “F— muslims,” “F— arabs,” and “Donald Trump.” The parish had leased its basement to several Muslim residents to use as a prayer space.
Just over a month ago, New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal echoed Hilliard’s sentiment when he released a 2018 report that showed a record-breaking 569 reported bias incidents that year.
Grewal characterized the spike as a “rising tide of hate,” noting that there was a spike in bias incidents involving minors. Nearly half of all bias incidents involved juveniles. Statewide, 284 incidents occurred on college campuses.
All reports are now centralized
Hudson County Prosecutor Esther Suarez said that crimes and incidents which target people based on bias have been on the rise, not just in Bayonne, the county, or the state, but throughout the country.
“Not too long ago, bias incidents and hate crimes weren’t being tracked,” Suarez said. She announced a statewide shift to a centralized reporting system for any hate crime or complaint involving a noncriminal bias incident.
Assistant Hudson County Prosecutor Angela Gingerelli explained the difference between hate crimes and bias incidents.
While national reporting on bias crimes and incidents is notoriously unreliable, it’s gotten better in New Jersey. Many members of law enforcement speculate that the spike in bias incidents partly has to do with enhanced reporting, but can also be attributed to a spike in incidents on social media.
The state has also established a task force to investigate and mitigating bias incidents among minors and young people.
Prior changes to reporting guidelines had been instituted in in 2000. But some changes were made as recently as August 2019, according to Division of Criminal Justice Director Veronica Allende, who was at the meeting.
As of last month, local police in New Jersey were required to log suspected and confirmed hate crimes and bias incidents. Those reports are electronically transmitted to State Police, the New Jersey Division of Criminal Justice, the federal Department of Homeland Security, and the New Jersey Attorney General’s Office.
Allende noted that there has been an expansion in what defines bias. New protected classifications include disability, gender, gender identity and expression, and national origin.
Allende said that it’s crucial for reports to cover noncriminal bias incidents.
“While bias incidents are not criminal, they could represent a future threat posed by certain individuals,” Allende said. “The Division of Criminal Justice is constantly working in concert with other local agencies to help ameliorate tensions between community groups, and give people tools to talk to each other. Sometimes, that means bringing people from conflicted groups together in the same room.”