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COLUMN: YWCA Greater Cincinnati speaker says federal hate crime stats are 'worthless' but matter

'In very technical terms, the data sucks'
Posted: 3:21 PM, Apr 04, 2019
Updated: 2019-04-04 19:21:33Z
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CINCINNATI — Hate crime pop quiz:

Which three Ohio communities in Greater Cincinnati with populations of 25,000 or more reported zero hate crimes in 2017?

The answer: Delhi Township, Fairfield and Miami Township in Clermont County, according to the keynote speaker at the 2019 YWCA Racial Justice Breakfast.

“They’re clearly the best communities in the world to live in,” attorney Roy Austin told a packed audience at the event. “There’s no hate. Just love in every one of these communities.”

If you sensed the sarcasm in Austin’s remarks, you passed the quiz.

Austin, a former deputy assistant to the president for urban affairs, justice and opportunity in the Obama administration, used his keynote address Thursday morning at Music Hall to explain the realities behind the nation’s best data on hate crimes.

The information, he said, is terrible.

Roy Austin

“In very technical terms,” he said, “the data sucks. It is completely worthless data that the FBI publishes every single year on hate crimes.”

Austin noted that the Uniform Crime Report’s 2017 data, the most recent available, listed Mississippi as having one hate crime that year.

“I mean, I know Obama made us post-racial,” he said. “But there is no way that Mississippi had one hate crime in 2017. It just didn’t happen.”

In fact, Austin argued it’s difficult to believe that any community of size across the United States had absolutely no hate crimes during an entire year.

His argument is based, at least in part, on another data source, the National Crime Victimization Survey, which surveys individuals and asks whether they were victims of hate crimes.

That’s different from the Uniform Crime Report, which uses numbers that local police departments report to the FBI, and it results in much different information.

While the Uniform Crime Report listed fewer than 8,000 hate crimes across the U.S. in 2017, the National Crime Victimization Survey found an average of more than 200,000 hate crimes committed each year between 2009 and 2017.

Austin speaking at the 2019 YWCA Racial Justice Breakfast on April 4 at Music Hall.

So what’s the reason for the huge discrepancy between those two numbers?

“Either law enforcement isn’t counting or people aren’t telling,” Austin said. “And the answer is both.”

Austin argued that having accurate data is important because it helps communities understand whether they have a problem.

And he argued that tracking hate crimes, specifically, is important because hate crimes are meant to intimidate and impact entire groups of people, and victims are targeted because of characteristics about themselves that they can’t change.

The solution, he said, is to encourage people to report hate crimes to police and encourage police to track and report the crimes, too.

Just as important, Austin said, is to encourage genuine community policing, where officers are part of the communities they police, understand their needs and how best to help the people who live there.

Community activist and business owner Iris Roley urged people at the breakfast to get involved in the Collaborative Agreement Refresh that local activists, community leaders and the Cincinnati Police Department are working to complete.

“Please reach out to me,” said Roley, who received a Racial Justice Award from the YWCA Thursday morning. “It is our duty to make it better for the children’s children.”

From left, Roy Austin, Chip Harrod, YWCA CEO Barbara Perez, YWCA board chair Jill McGruder, and Iris Roley at the 2019 YWCA Racial Justice Breakfast. Both Roley and Harrod received Racial Justice Awards.

More information about YWCA Greater Cincinnati is available online.

Information about the Collaborative Agreement Refresh is available online, too.

Lucy May writes about the people, places and issues that define our region – to celebrate what makes the Tri-State great and shine a spotlight on issues we need to address. To reach Lucy, email lucy.may@wcpo.com. Follow her on Twitter @LucyMayCincy.