Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2008

Religion topped race as motive in 2007 hate crimes

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The number of hateful acts identified by police dropped roughly 20 percent last year, but the county’s hate crimes coordinator said that some immigrant communities are not reporting crimes that would be considered hateful.

Montgomery County Police identified 42 hate crimes and incidents in 2007 with another ‘‘six or seven” acts determined inconclusive, said Dave Baker, hate crimes coordinator for county police.

Though that number is down from the recent average of roughly 55 per year, Baker cautioned against being overly encouraged.

‘‘I don’t think it’s a trend, and I don’t think it’s a significant deviation from the previous three to five years,” he said.

Much of his hesitation is because many more hate crimes are going unreported as some immigrant communities are not reporting crimes to police out of fear of deportation.

‘‘A lot of the hate activity in the recent year took place between the immigrant community and the African-American community,” Baker said. ‘‘Those things are being considered not as hateful but I guess as part of the way it is. That’s a concern for us... They’re not reported at all. The only reason we know about them is because we do a lot of speaking engagements and a lot of folks will talk off the record with us and say that this is happening.

‘‘They’re using the N word, the S word, they’re calling each other names all over the place,” he said.

For the third year in a row, hate activity in the last year was motivated more by religion than race, bucking what had been a 20-year trend. Of the 42 hateful acts, 26 targeted religion, 13 were race related and three were driven by ethnicity, Baker said.

Baker compiles the department’s statistics on hate crimes into an annual report, which he will submit to Chief J. Thomas Manger before the end of the month. Montgomery County began tracking hate activity in the 1980s. Except during a rash of burglaries at churches about 15 years ago, race has always been the primary motivator, Baker said. However, the designations can be ‘‘a little misleading” because federal guidelines require that hate crimes be attributed to only one of the categories, which are: religious affiliation; race; ethnicity or national origin; sexual orientation and gender and physical or mental disability.

The upsurge in religiously driven hate crimes is being pushed by a ‘‘dramatic increase” in vandalisms that involve swastikas, which Baker said were the ‘‘vast majority” of the 26 religiously motivated hate crimes and incidents — a problem that is not unique to Montgomery.

The Kehilat Shalom synagogue in Montgomery Village was one of those to see a swastika when in late August, a banner in support of Israel hanging near the sanctuary entrance was defaced with pictures, slogans and curse words. There have been no arrests in that case.

The swastika’s surging popularity poses a particularly vexing problem, as the roots of the problem are not easily surmised, said Rabbi Mark Raphael.

‘‘The question is, is this something that the kids are just seeing on the Internet and learning at home? Or is this something coming out of a religious tradition and propaganda?” he said.

Within days of the vandalism at Kehilat Shalom, Congregation Tikvat Israel in Rockville had signs in support of Israel’s 60th anniversary defaced. Weeks later, synagogues in Wheaton and Silver Spring were also struck.

Muslims and Sikhs were also targeted last year. On Sept. 11, Gaithersburg resident and Muslim community activist Samira Hussein woke to find her tires slashed, an echo of a similar attack against her years earlier.

On Sept. 15, two elderly Sikh men were attacked in Burtonsville. Four teenagers from Silver Spring were charged, but the attack was ruled inconclusive as a hate crime because there was no direct evidence that the attack was motivated for religious reasons.

Tracking hate activity allows the police department to coordinate enforcement measures and strategies for prevention.

‘‘Very rarely do we see arrests, unfortunately,” Baker said.