Reports of hate crimes in Washington are on the rise, but testimony today from law enforcement officials, residents and community activists before the city council was divided on whether the numbers show an increase in reporting or an increase in hate crimes.
Several attendees also testified about their lack of satisfaction with the prosecution of hate crimes in Washington, although prosecution wasn't the focus of the hearing.
Today's hearing was the third on hate crime reporting held before the District of Columbia Council since late 2008. Washington police Chief Cathy Lanier testified that hate crime reports are up, but said it was almost impossible to say whether that was an indication of more reporting or more crime.
“I think we are seeing better reporting,” she said. “That has to account for some of it.”
Lanier testified that from 2006 to 2010, about 71 percent of hate crimes reported were related to prejudice against a person’s sexual orientation or gender identify. This year, less than half of reported hate crimes had to do with sexual orientation, she said, noting that reports of race-based hate crimes are on the rise.
A.J. Singletary of Washington’s Gays and Lesbians Against Violence testified that reports of hate crimes against individuals based on their sexual orientation or how they express their gender identify have been on the rise each year since 2009. Singletary said he believes there has been an increase in hate crimes, while also saying that the Metropolitan Police Department has taken steps to improve reporting, including making the reporting of hate crimes mandatory.
Noting that Washington has the highest rate of hate crimes in the country against people based on their sexual orientation, Singletary said, “much more needs to be done.”
Singletary cited the Robert Hannah case as evidence of the frustration among gay rights advocacy groups with how the U.S. Attorney's office has handled cases involving alleged hate crimes. Hanna was arrested in the beating death of a Maryland man, Tony Hunter, near a Washington gay bar in 2008. Hannah claimed he responded violently because Hunter made sexual advances towards him; he pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of simple assault in 2009. Singletary said defendants should not be allowed to make what is commonly referred to as the “gay panic defense.”
Lanier testified that she was almost positive that police had classified the incident as a hate crime, but that prosecutors made a decision not to prosecute the case as a hate crime later on.
Video of the full hearing will be available here.