Campus hate crime reports rise dramatically in two years
The UH’s Annual Security and Fire Safety Report, released in September, showed a significant rise in reported hate crimes over the past three years.
In 2014, no hate crimes were reported to UHPD, but two were reported in 2015, and the number of hate crimes spiked to seven in 2016.
Five of the hate crimes reported in 2016 were motivated by racial violence, while the remaining two were motivated by sexual orientation, according to the report. The hate crimes in 2015 were motivated by bias against religion and ethnicity.
“A hate crime is the same as a traditional offense, but with the added element of being motivated by prejudice, hatred or advocacy of violence,” UH Police Department officer Bret Collier said. “Motivation can sometimes be inferred through the evidence collected or garnered during the course of interviews with involved parties.”
The report does not specify whether the cases were prosecuted. According to the Texas Tribune, however, a hate crime prosecution has not been completed in Harris County since 2007.
Law professor Sandra Thompson said hate crimes are rarely prosecuted because it’s difficult to prove the motive and whether it is reasonable prosecute a person with a hate crime.
“There have been some really terrible cases where people have killed other people. There’s a gentleman named Byrd who was killed by three white males because they were just out to kill someone who’s African-American,” Thompson said. “When they were prosecuted, the concern was that prosecutors used regular death penalty statute, which carried a possible death sentence, and any kind of hate crime statute would not. So sometimes (prosecuting a crime as a hate crime) may not provide greater punishment, which is a little ironic.”
Thompson said it is difficult to determine why UH has experienced a sharp rise in hate crimes.
“Even if we had more data, even if it looked like there had never been any and one year we had seven, it’s hard to know what was the cause of that,” she said. “That’s always a challenge: to figure out why people commit crimes, or why they don’t commit crimes.”
Center for Diversity and Inclusion Director Niya Blair said she thinks the hostile political climate contributes to the rise, but CDI’s diversity programs could help combat hate crimes.
“We haven’t necessarily done programs that are specific to (hate crimes), but I think a lot of our programs and workshops talk about inclusive environments, which would combat hate crimes and hate offenses,” Blair said.
By talking about inclusive environments and microaggressions, the mentalities that lead to hate crimes can be defeated, Blair said.
While some officers may have chosen to go to hate crimes training on their own, UHPD does not have any programs discussing hate crimes, nor do it require officers to attend such programs, Collier said.
“There would be no difference in how a hate crime is reported than with a traditional crime,” Collier said, “but the victim should let the officer know if they have reason to believe the crime was motivated by bias.”
Blair said victims should come forward.
“Don’t keep it to yourself. Share it, because I think these types of crimes hold its power because people don’t know about it,” Blair said. “Be able to share, talk about it, and then take the steps to find the appropriate people that can help you, so you can get some type of conclusion about it.”