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Hate crimes underreported in Dallas, FBI says

Dallas Police Department statistics show only nine incidents classified as hate crimes in 2022, compared to 13 this time last year.

By Jamie Landers

shattered mirror inside
This photo shows a shattered mirror inside Hair World Salon Thursday,

Following a shooting that injured three women of Korean descent at a northwest Dallas hair salon, police Chief Eddie García said the incident is being investigated as a potential hate crime, and may be connected to at least two other recent shootings that targeted the city’s Asian American community.

If defined as such, the shooting would be one of only nine hate crimes reported by the department this year, a figure the FBI Dallas Division said does not coincide with the “deep fear” felt by communities across the nation.

“We know that it has to be more than nine,” Dallas FBI spokeswoman Melinda Urbina told The Dallas Morning News. “We see the fear, we see what they’re fearing, so why are we not seeing it reflected in the numbers we’re looking at?”

It’s a complex question due to personal hesitations, language barriers and legal obstacles that make classifying a hate crime a lengthy and, at times, arduous process. Getting a handle on the scope of hate crime is difficult, and the reported data is slippery.

What is considered a hate crime?

According to the U.S. Department of Justice, in the context of hate crime law, the word “hate” does not mean rage, anger or general dislike, but rather bias against people or groups with specific characteristics, such as the victim’s perceived or actual race, color, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity or disability.

The DOJ said hate crimes also have a broader effect than most other crimes because they include not only the immediate target, but others like that person, including families and entire communities.

In Texas, a hate crime finding also enhances the possible punishment for a crime. For example, a second-degree felony is typically punishable by two to 20 years in prison, but if a jury believes the act is a hate crime, the punishment increases to the range for a first-degree felony, which is five to 99 years or life in prison.

The makeup of hate crimes in Dallas

Dallas Police Department statistics updated Tuesday show a total of nine hate crimes have been reported in the city so far in 2022, compared to 13 this time last year. According to the data, none from either year was against an Asian American.

Of the hate crimes reported, two were against Black people, and the remaining seven were against members of the LGBTQ community. As for the types of crime committed, three were by assault, another three by vandalism or destruction of property, two were theft and one was intimidation.

But the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University in San Bernardino reports that in 2020, Dallas had 62 total hate crimes and six were against Asian Americans. The jump in numbers could indicate a dramatic increase in hate crime or the difficulty categorizing such crime.

According to the FBI, there were 8,263 hate crimes across the U.S. in 2020.

Because they have not been officially classified as hate crimes, the recent Texas shootings that are under investigation by Dallas police are not reflected in the database, but include the following:

  • On April 2, someone drove by and shot into three Asian-owned businesses in the same shopping center. Witnesses told police that the shooter was in a red minivan.
  • On May 10, a man who was believed to be driving a burgundy minivan shot into an Asian-run business in the 4800 block of Sunnyvale Street in east Oak Cliff.
  • On Wednesday, a man fired multiple shots into the World Hair Salon before fleeing in a red minivan. The women were hospitalized with injuries that weren’t life-threatening.

At a Monday meeting with members of the Korean American community in Dallas, García said although he does not believe hate crimes are on track to rise rapidly, “whether they were high or whether they were low, this happened, so we have to address it and we need to understand that we need to do more for our community.”

A resident said she hopes to see Dallas police do more to explain the resources that are available to the community, including training, and added she thinks law enforcement can do a better job explaining the importance of reporting crimes.

Rep. Gene Wu, D-Houston, previously told The News the underreporting of discrimination and violence has been a “pervasive problem” within the Asian American community.

“People don’t want to be public about it because they’re scared,” Wu said. “They’re scared of being targeted again, and frankly, they’re a lot more scared of authority or being labeled as a troublemaker.”

Hate crime data not required by law

The lack of public data, however, can be attributed to factors well beyond personal responsibility.

For instance, federal law does not require state, local, tribal or college and university law enforcement to submit data to the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting program. Even when a crime is reported to the program, it’s only after an investigation by the law enforcement agency results in an “objective” basis to conclude a hate crime took place, according to the DOJ.

In addition, a report from Northeastern University in Boston said proving bias-motivation is difficult because there are usually numerous motivations underlying criminal conduct, and prosecutors may even decline to pursue hate crime charges because of how they might impact sentencing.

These obstacles have spurred efforts to get more data. In October, the FBI Dallas Division, among others nationwide, joined an FBI Headquarters initiative to build public awareness of hate crimes and to encourage reporting to law enforcement.

“Over the last five years, there’s been a 25% increase in reported hate crimes, even still, the vast majority of these crimes are going underreported and that needs to change,” said Thomas J. Sobocinski, special agent in charge of the FBI Baltimore Field Office. “The FBI can help, but only if we know about the crime.”

Urbina, the Dallas FBI spokeswoman, said the hate crime data from 2021 has not been compiled yet, but she hopes the campaign, along with law enforcement outreach and the “hyper-awareness” due to high profile incidents across the country will have assisted in breaking down barriers preventing reports.

“We’re all hoping to see it trending in a much better direction,” she said. “And if not, it’s the numbers that tell us where the work needs to be done.”

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