Austin leads Texas in reported hate crimes in 2017

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Photo Credit: Rena Li | Daily Texan Staff

Austin led Texas in reported hate crimes in 2017, according to the FBI Hate Crime Statistics report.

According to the report, Austin had 18 hate crimes — 10 of which were motivated by race, ethnicity or ancestry, four by sexual orientation, three by religion and one by gender identity. Dallas had the second most in Texas with 14 reported hate crimes. Fort Worth had 13, and Houston had eight.

Renee Lafair, regional director of the Austin Anti-Defamation League, said Austin has the most hate crimes in Texas because of increased efforts by local law enforcement to report them. 

“If there is a potential assault that was done because of a person’s race or ethnicity or gender, that could be a hate crime, but sometimes it’s not recognized,” Lafair said. “Law enforcement has to recognize them and particularly have to check a box … but there’s an awful lot of people who don’t check the boxes.”

Kachina Clark, Austin Police Department Victim Services manager, said detectives, officers, counselors and an internal review board regularly use FBI guidelines to evaluate if crimes were motivated by prejudice. 

The Austin Police Department is also a member of the Austin-Travis County Hate Crimes Task Force, a group of more than 60 agencies including the UT Police Department, which reviews and works to prevent hate crimes.

“Through the task force, we work at developing relationships that help create a safe environment for reporting these incidents,” Clark said. “I think people are more likely to report to us because of the task force and the connections it provides.”

Amid a 17 percent nationwide increase of hate crimes in 2017, Austin also had more than 10 reported hate crimes for the third year in a row. Lafair said she feels this increase in hate crimes is due to a rise in hate speech, which makes people more willing to “lash out” at minority communities.

“We’re in an era of time where it’s more normalized for people to say terrible things about entire groups of people without consequence, so more people feel emboldened to act on those sentiments,” Lafair said.

Faith Avery, African and African diaspora studies and journalism freshman, said she also feels hate speech is becoming more normalized. Avery said while she hasn’t experienced any hate crimes, she still doesn’t feel safe in Austin because of her identity as a black woman.

“Preventing hate crimes requires a long and somewhat unrealistic process,” Avery said. “To eliminate the crime, you have to get rid of the hate itself. That only happens if said individuals committing the crimes are willing to not only realize, but act on the fact that what they are doing is wrong.”

Jeannie Tomanetz, APD Victim Services counselor, said APD offers short-term counseling and helps connect any victims of hate crimes to resources in the community.

“I am there to support them and be an advocate,” Tomanetz said. “I can make outreach to the detectives, I can make outreach with other organizations, but most importantly, my whole focus is to mitigate any trauma so, in the long run, they don’t have other issues that come up later.”