Hate crimes reported in D.C. are up

The number of hate-related crimes reported in the District rose last year from 2015, with an increase in incidents targeting religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation and gender identity, D.C. police and the mayor’s office said Friday.

Authorities noted in particular that crimes motivated by religious bias, such as threats and assaults, jumped from five in 2015 to 18 last year. Acting police chief Peter Newsham, who is awaiting confirmation by the D.C. Council, said 12 of the 18 incidents targeted people of the Jewish faith.

There were 107 hate crimes reported in the District in 2016, up from 66 the previous year, which was the lowest number in five years. “Certainly, the level of anxiety among Washingtonians has increased,” said Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D).

The numbers were made public at a news conference at the Sixth and I synagogue, attended by Bowser and Newsham, who were flanked by members of the District’s diverse faith community.

Although D.C. leaders attributed the increase in part to residents feeling more comfortable and confident in reporting crime to police — “I believe we have a city that is less tolerant of this type of behavior,” the mayor said — they also noted the contentious presidential election and divisive rhetoric embedded in the nation’s discourse.

Telephone threats to Jewish community centers and other institutions have increased across the country this year, with several occurring in suburban Washington. The FBI reported a 6 percent rise in hate crimes across the nation in 2015, the latest available statistics.

In the District in August, anti-Semitic graffiti was found near Gallery Place — the word “Jew” written in a drawing of a Chinese zodiac rat decorating a sidewalk, and swastikas drawn on windows and tables of a Starbucks. A 60-year-old man was arrested.

Rabbi Batya Steinlauf, director of communal affairs for the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington, said she is not surprised by the increase in hate crimes in general and those directed at Jews.

“The Jewish community has been well aware of the undercurrent of anti-Semitism,” Steinlauf said. She added, “Any attack on any faith community, any ethnic community, any vulnerable group, effects the entire culture, and how everyone feels in society. . . . I feel grateful that we in D.C. have relationships so that we can stand together to make it clear that this is not what our society is about.”

Other increases in hate crimes in 2016 included those targeting people based on ethnicity and national origin, up from three to 12; sexual orientation, up from 27 to 40; and gender identity, up from 10 to 19. Hate crimes based on race went down from 19 in 2015 to 14 reported last year.

Bowser said she is redoubling efforts to reach out to the District’s transgender community. This week, prosecutors secured hate-crime indictments against three men charged with killing a 22-year-old transgender woman and for targeting two other transgender women in robberies. Authorities said the crimes were motivated by prejudice because of the gender identity of the victims.

And earlier this year, Newsham took direct oversight of a police office that helps transgender, gay and lesbian and other residents in groups that often experience discrimination, signaling those efforts are being given top-level priority.

Bowser said she wants to send a message that “everyone feels welcome and is welcome in our city.” She added, “We are a place of tolerance and respect, a place where every resident has a pathway to opportunity. We are a Washington that values respect, inclusivity and diversity.”

Newsham noted that 107 crimes is a small fraction of the more than 35,000 crimes reported in the District in 2016. But he said “it is important that everybody knows” about the increase in hate crimes. “We will not accept this as the new norm.”

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