Bias incidents across the state were up 65 percent in 2019 compared to 2018, according to an announcement by NJ Attorney General Gurbir Grewal.
According to preliminary data, 944 bias incidents were reported to New Jersey Law enforcement in 2019. Although that figure is likely to change as law enforcement reconciles end-of-year reports, it represents the highest annual total of bias incidents reported since 1996.
There were 569 reported bias incidents in 2018.
“These preliminary numbers reinforce what we’ve suspected all year, and what too many New Jersey residents know all too well,” said Attorney General Grewal. “More and more people are alerting law enforcement about acts of hatred and intolerance that target victims based solely on what they look like, how they worship, or who they love. Now more than ever, we need to come together as a community to confront this rising tide of hate.”
Bias incidents are suspected or confirmed offenses motivated by a victim’s perceived or actual race, color, ethnicity, national origin, religion, sexual orientation, disability, gender, gender identity, or gender expression.
New Jersey law defines the crime of bias intimidation as an offense committed to intimidate — or with the knowledge that such an action would intimidate — an individual or group of individuals because of the characteristics listed above. Bias offenses can include harassment, assault, terroristic threats, arson, criminal mischief, and homicide.
The preliminary figure of 944 bias incidents in 2019 was compiled as part of the New Jersey Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) System, which is operated by the New Jersey State Police to track crime rates in the state.
By law, every state, county, and local law enforcement agency must submit information to the UCR System of any reported bias incidents.
The AG’s Office and State Police intend to release final confirmed UCR data on 2019 reported bias incidents later this spring which will include detailed data such as county, type of incident, and age of the offender.
Among the 944 incidents included in the preliminary 2019 data was the Dec.10 shooting at the JC Kosher Supermarket in Jersey City’s Greenville neighborhood that left four people dead.
“The terrible attack in Jersey City was by far the most violent bias incident in New Jersey last year, but it was hardly the only one,” Grewal said. “We are committed to doing everything in our power to solve this problem. In addition to maintaining vigilance against such attacks, we in law enforcement are joining with community members and youth leaders across the state to counter the corrosive messages of hate that motivate such acts, and to replace them with messages of tolerance, understanding, and unity.”
In what Grewal has called an “act of domestic terrorism” and what US Attorney Craig Carpenito has called a “cowardly act of anti-Semitism” David Anderson, 47, and Francine Graham,50, killed Detective Joseph Seals at Bay View Cemetery before driving a white U-Haul van outfitted with ballistic panels to the Kosher supermarket on Dec. 10.
Anderson then exited the car with a long rifle and began firing on the store. Anderson and Graham entered the store, and killed three citizens, including Mindy Ferencz, 32; Douglas Rodriguez, 49; and Moshe Deutsch, 24. A fourth person who was in the store was shot, but escaped and survived.
The hours-long standoff ended after an armored police vehicle broke through the front of the store, and police entered the building. Both Anderson and Graham were found dead at the scene.
“The 65 percent increase in reported bias incidents is a sobering reminder of the alarming rate that hateful acts are being perpetrated against the citizens of our state,” said Colonel Patrick Callahan of the New Jersey State Police. “Even though officer training and incident tracking have aided police departments in their response to these incidents, it is imperative that our residents remain vigilant in reporting bias crime without delay.”
According to a press release from the Attorney General’s Office, Grewal intends to announce the findings of the Interagency Task Force to Combat Youth Bias next month.
The task force, composed of eight state agencies and chaired by the Division on Civil Rights, was created by Executive Order in August 2019 after the Attorney General issued a report showing a rising number of bias incidents involving juveniles.
According to the report, 54 percent of all reported bias incidents in New Jersey in 2018 were motivated by the victim’s race, ethnicity, or ancestry. Approximately 35 percent of reported bias incidents were motivated by the victim’s religion, and 10 percent were motivated by the victim’s sexual orientation, gender, gender identity or expression. Less than 1 percent were motivated by a victim’s mental or physical disability.
About 72 percent of all reported racially-motivated bias incidents in New Jersey in 2017 and 2018 were aimed at African-Americans.
Hispanics were the group most frequently targeted for ethnicity-related bias offenses in 2017 and 2018, and anti-Jewish offenses formed the bulk of reported bias incidents driven by religious prejudice in 2017 and 2018, including a combined total of 152 reported swastika incidents.
In 2017, the data shows, 29.6 percent of all known bias offenders in New Jersey were minors, but in 2018, the percentage of known bias offenders who were minors spiked to more than 46 percent.
The data for 2017 and 2018 also shows that the majority of known bias offenders in New Jersey were white males and that harassment, intimidation, and vandalism/destruction of property were the most common offenses.
Since the task force’s formation, it has been conducting listening sessions across the state and will issue a report with advice and recommendations to Gov. Murphy and AG Grewal on strategies and actions to reduce incidents of hate, bias, and intolerance involving students and young adults.
“The data confirm that incidents motivated by bias, prejudice, and hate are rising,” said Rachel Wainer Apter, director of the New Jersey Division on Civil Rights (DCR). “We encourage anyone who has been subjected to bias-based harassment or discrimination at work, in housing, or in a place of public accommodation to file a complaint with DCR, where remedies can include equitable relief and compensatory damages. And we are working closely with the entire Task Force to finalize a list of comprehensive recommendations on how to prevent and combat bias, prejudice, and hate among children and young adults.”
More hate or more accurate reporting?
Last April, AG Grewal issued updated Bias Incident Investigation Standards that focus on ensuring proper investigation of all bias incidents. The standards provide for streamlined reporting of all bias incidents by law enforcement agencies using the Electronic Uniform Crime Reporting (eUCR) system maintained by the New Jersey State Police.
This system allows for centralized and more accurate reporting of bias incidents throughout the state.
The standards mandate continuing education for police officers regarding interactions with various faiths and cultures, as well as recognizing and investigating bias crimes.
According to the release, the increase in reported bias incidents in 2019 may be the result of this improved reporting, as well as recent incidents and outreach efforts that have raised the awareness of the importance of reporting and thoroughly investigating all bias incidents.
The data does not include incidents that were never reported to law enforcement.
According to a report from the U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Statistics, more than half of hate crime victims nationwide from 2011 to 2015 did not report the crimes to the police.
To report a bias crime, visit http://nj.gov/oag/bias or call 800-277-BIAS.