Fewer hate crimes in 2008, Obama's election year, data show
Reported hate crimes dropped 2 percent in 2008 from 2007 levels. Is rising 'atmosphere of rage' a threat to gains?
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"We're not seeing that kind of anti-Semitism or anger based on race, but really anger directed at government, and that concerns us," says Ms. Mayo. "Rage can be based on a belief that the government is illegitimate or it's controlled by Jews."Skip to next paragraph
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Hate-crime data are famously inaccurate, experts warn. This year, for example, Mississippi reported no hate crimes while Tennessee reported more than 300 – a discrepancy so wide it can only be attributed to flawed reporting.
That doesn't mean the data are useless, but it does make it hard to tell if the results are indicative of a trend or if they're illusory, says Brian Levin, director of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism and author of the hate crimes report. But the report's findings nonethless give some insight into the state of prejudice in America:
•California saw overall reports of hate crimes drop 4 percent. Hated-filled attacks on Hispanics and black declined steeply, but that was offset by a 37 percent increase in anti-Jewish attacks and a 16 percent increase in attacks on gays.
•The state of New York saw reported hate crimes decrease from 647 to 596 between 2007 and 2008, with intimidation, property damage, and assault each making up a third of the incidents.
•Texas saw a slight 1.2 percent uptick, with the most common crime being vandalism.
•Virginia, in the heart of the South, saw 9.2 percent fewer hate crimes in 2008 than in 2007. Washington State, meanwhile, registered a 17 percent increase over the same period. What about Idaho, a sometime redoubt for extremists? Down from 38 to 30 incidents, a 21 percent decrease.
A tougher societal and legal view of bigotry in recent years may be an effective deterrent, Mr. Levin says. That's true especially for young people – the major perpetrators of hate crimes – who tend to be less ideologically committed to prejudices than "hard-core hate-mongers," he says.
Meanwhile, Americans have a way of overturning conventional wisdom about prejudice in the country. For example, a widely predicted backlash against Muslims after the Fort Hood attack, in which a Muslim Army major has been charged, has yet to materialize.
Still, Levin warns, "a catalytic event has the ability to spark a significant cycle of retaliatory violence that can immediately, though temporarily, change the trajectory of previous trends."
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