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A cursory scan of national headlines in recent months would tell you that hate is on the rise across the country. And the District has not been immune.
A new and extensive investigation by The Washington Post has revealed that the number of violent incidents motivated by hate is at a record high in D.C. With 204 incidents in 2018, the District had the highest per capita hate-crime rate of any major city in the country, according to the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University at San Bernardino.
The Post’s investigation also revealed that, despite the surge in bias-related crimes and an uptick in the number of arrests made in these cases, hate-crime prosecutions in the District are at a record low — in fact, prosecutions and convictions are at their lowest point in at least a decade.
Here is a brief glance at the data analyzed by The Washington Post’s investigation team:
- The Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) investigated a record 204 “bias-motivated” attacks in D.C. 2018.
- MPD made 59 arrests in hate-crime cases involving adults in 2018 (a record number).
- Only three of the cases in 2018 were prosecuted as hate crimes and one case was dropped.
- There were 178 suspected hate crimes in the District in 2017 and MPD made 54 arrests in cases involving adults.
- Only two cases in 2017 were prosecuted as hate-crimes and both cases were dropped.
Kojo sits down with one of the journalists behind this investigation and the stakeholders involved to find out what this increase in hate-filled attacks looks like in the local community, and what’s behind the decline in the number of prosecutions.
Produced by Margaret Barthel and Monna Kashfi
KOJO NNAMDIYou tuned in to The Kojo Nnamdi Show on WAMU 88.5, welcome. Later in the broadcast a look at tenants' rights and landlord responsibilities when it comes to safety in rental properties in the District. But first last week a new investigation by The Washington Post revealed that incidents of hate crimes hit all time high in 2018 with a total of 204 attacks fueled by hate versus a 178 suspected hate crimes in 2017. That means the District now has the highest per capita hate crime rate of any major city in the country.
KOJO NNAMDIThe Post also found that although Metropolitan Police made a record number of arrests in these hate crime cases last year, prosecutions of hate crimes in the District are at their lowest point in at least a decade. So what does this increase in hate filled attacks look like in the community? And who is being targeted and what's the causing the decline in the number of prosecutions? Well, joining me in studio to discuss this is Michael Miller. He's a Local Enterprise Reporter with The Washington Post. Michael, thank you for joining us.
MICHAEL MILLERThanks for having me.
NNAMDIRuby Corado is the Founder of Casa Ruby, a bilingual multicultural LGBTQ social services organization in the District. Ruby Corado, thank you for joining us.
RUBY CORADOThank you for having me.
NNAMDIAnd Mary McCord is the Senior Litigator from practice at the Georgetown Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection. She was previously a prosecutor at the U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Columbia for some 20 years or so. Thank you for joining us.
MARY MCCORDMy pleasure, Kojo.
NNAMDIWe did invite the U.S. Attorney's Office and the Metropolitan Police Department to join us for this conversation, but they were unable to do so. Michael, last week you had a pair of stories in The Post that looked at the landscape of hate crimes in the District and to what extent law enforcement is able to arrest, charge and get convictions against perpetrators. Give us some of the main themes that came out in your reporting.
MILLERWell, thank you again for having me. We -- at The Washington Post we are kind of in the middle of a yearlong project on hate crimes. And we hear a lot about hate crimes in the news sadly these days, because of kind of high profile incidents like the mass shooting in Pittsburgh or El Paso just a couple of weeks ago. But I wanted to look at what hatred really looked like here in D.C. And so I sat out to do that kind of looking through hundreds of cases from the past couple of years. And as I was doing that I started to see that very few of these cases were being prosecuted as hate crimes. And so with the help of a colleague Stephen Rich, we looked at over 200,000 criminal cases.
MILLERBasically scraped their website to determine exactly how many of these were being prosecuted as hate crimes and what was happening in those cases, and so the big kind of take away for me is that what we're seeing is as you mentioned a real rise a very sharp rise in the number of suspected hate crimes here in D.C. That's the number of cases that are being reported to police that they're investigating as hate crimes. We've seen that triple since 2015 to a record number to 204 last year. But as we're seeing that stark, you know, shocking rise in suspected hate crimes we're seeing the number of cases actually prosecuted as hate crimes drop as you mentioned to a record low -- a decade low at least. So that's kind of the most startling finding. And it raises some serious questions as to how these cases are being handled and why and when they're prosecuted as hate crimes.
NNAMDIWe'll get to the law enforcement aspect of all of this in a minute. But you mentioned the 204 incidents that were investigated by police last year, were there trends in the data saying what specific crimes were common against whom and where in the city?
MILLERYeah, I mean, they are pretty well distributed around the city. I mean, we did look at that to see if we could find particular hot spots. You do see some places, which have quite a few of them. I was shocked to find that my neighborhood Dupont, which is a very LGBT friendly neighborhood has had a very high number of these incidents. We also see that the LGBT community, they made up about half of the cases in terms of the victims of these suspected hate crimes. So we did kind of get a sense of what hatred looks like here in D.C., and I'm sure this is something that Ruby could speak to. But, yeah, you know, I spoke to several repeat victims as well. So we do see kind of these certain communities which have been targeted certainly more than others.
NNAMDIMichael, another thing that you found in reviewing the reports was that many of the accused perpetrators of these hate crimes had either mental health or substance abuse issues. How does that fit into the overall picture?
MILLERWell, I mean, it certainly complicates the picture quite a bit, because those are very difficult issues to address. It makes it more difficult I think in a way to simply throw the book at a perpetrator. So it also means that you do see some repeat offenders. It's just something else that we found. So, you know, that's not just D.C. as well, I mean, we're really talking about hate crimes nationally. I think I spoke to the Seattle Police Department. They found there that up to 40 percent of their suspected hate crimes involved mental health issues or substance abuse. So that's another aspect of this that's really tricky and kind of complicates the picture.
NNAMDIRuby Corado, violence against members of the LGBTQ community was especially pronounced compared to other marginalized groups. Why do you think that is?
CORADOIt's because in our society there is a value put on lives and there's a lot of misinformation about who LGBT people are. Sometimes there's many layers particularly is you are black and trans that deepens, you know, how you are seen in society. And in general, is very little interest to make sure that we address these issues, because who has been affected by these issues.
NNAMDIMichael, notes in his story that the anti-LGBTQ violence quoting here, "easily eclipses the violence experts have seen in other bigger cities nationally." Why do you think it's worse here?
MILLERWe have a huge bureaucracy in our city. So therefore people who make decisions about how do we address this violence are very often people that have never experienced this type of violence, and very often also populations that are marginalized don't get to make the decisions. I think we have done also -- there are two parts. I think we, the advocates have done very well in terms of making sure that the stories come out and that we encourage people to come forward, and I think part of what we are seeing more numbers lately is because many of us are working really hard to make sure that this is something that doesn't go, you know, hidden under the rug.
NNAMDIWell, I want to -- my next question relates to that, because the spike in reports may not mean that there are more hate crimes happening. It may mean that there are more people reporting them. Is hate getting worse or are people just reporting it more?
CORADOIt's getting worse. It's getting worse. There is certainly the work that many of us have done to increase the number of. But it's also -- it just feels like it's more blunt these days. In the past you had people, who pretty much took a lot of time to find vulnerable people. Now you have people who are showing their bias and their hate in grocery stores. You're walking down the street on U Street, which is -- you know, it's very open space. They are walking into some LGBT spaces like the one that I run in Casa Ruby and sitting in parking lots and making threats. So things are -- it's almost like a green light that has been given to a lot of these individuals.
NNAMDIGive us a sense of the human cost of hate crimes. How does it change the victims' lives?
CORADOTen years ago, I was left for dead, myself, in a situation that I never imagined. This is someone that I dated for about three years. And things change. And when I was not able to accommodate the needs of this individual he really tried to destroy me. And one of the things that I know is that the act itself of the crime marks you. But knowing that the perpetrator actually gets away with so much hate it's a lifetime punishment. And for me, you know, I still have nightmares. I still have to deal with the fact that this person is somewhere out there. And it saddens me, because I know that he has done it to other people.
NNAMDIAnd you found out when you got on an anti-bias task force.
CORADOYeah. I found out why they did not prosecute my case. At some point I think maybe it was better that I didn't, because I think that if I had found out why they didn't prosecute my case that I would have committed suicide. It was really me feel that I was disposable. That I was a person that my life did not matter. And it was at the point that I was rebuilding my life where I felt stronger that I wanted some accountability and I wanted to change the world that I was able to deal with that. So people are left vulnerable and it takes years to really recover.
NNAMDIWhat did you find out about the reason why your case wasn't prosecuted?
CORADOThe perpetrator basically turned things around. And instead of focusing on what he had done to me he basically lied about who I was about my character, about the person who I am, and was able to get away with it.
NNAMDIMichael, you spoke at length with victims and families in your reporting. Anything you'd like to add about the aftermath of being a victim of a hate crime?
MILLERYeah, absolutely, I think Ruby made a lot of good points. You know, talking to victims, talking their advocates, many of them stress that hate crimes are in a way unique because if you are let's say walking down the street and you're attacked as part of a robbery, then that is something that certainly shakes you. But you can move on in a way because you know kind of it was a crime of opportunity. There was this financial motive behind it. But with hate crimes these people are being targeted for something that's very essential to them part of their identity, something that they cannot get rid of. They cannot shake that off.
MILLERSo, you know, I spoke quite at length with Ashley Taylor. She's the victim, who -- I kind of tell her story and her frustrations about why her case was not prosecuted as a hate crime. And she's a young woman, a lesbian woman of color, who was working on a construction site here in D.C. in southeast D.C. And she was in the middle of the day working on this construction site when a colleague began kind of harassing her for being a lesbian. Asking her why she looked the way that she did and then he was vowing to have sex with her, and at some point during this exchange pulled out a gun and shot her in the chest, so in broad daylight here in D.C.
MILLERAnd, you know, this has shaken her on many levels, because, you know, she is a person who loved to do this type of outside physical labor that was part of her identity. And ever since this happened she's been too afraid to return to that line of work. She suffers nightmares. She's unable to sleep. She imagines this man shooting her again and again in her dreams. So, again, this is -- she was targeted for something that is really core to her identity as a person and something that she can't shake off. So in that sense these hate crimes are really unique.
NNAMDIGot to take a short break. When we return we'll talk about the prosecutorial aspects of this. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back. We're talking about hate crimes in D.C. and inviting your calls at 800-433-8850. Mary McCord, Michael noted earlier that while hate crime reports are up the number of cases being charged with a hate crime enhancement by the U.S. Attorney's Office are down. Can you help us understand why that's the case?
MCCORDWell, of course, I'm not longer in the office so I can't directly address that. And I don't have any, you know, inside information into any of the particular cases that Michael highlighted in his very good reporting. I will say that I really credit activists such as Ruby and the Metropolitan Police Department and the special liaison group that has reached out over the last decade, I think, to the LGBTQ community, and heightened the awareness very significantly into what bias related crimes are under D.C. code and formed relationships that I think have contributed to more reporting as you indicated before the break. I think there is probably substantially more reporting of crimes now than there was previously, but I also agree with Ruby that hate crimes are up.
MCCORDAnd they're up not just here in D.C., they're up all over the country and have been up significantly since the last presidential election. You know, I spent a couple of years -- several years in nationally security at the Department of Justice at the Main Department of Justice. And one of our concerns after the election was the fact that people do no longer feel as inhibited in going ahead and expressing their hate. And they do that in a much more public way than we had been seeing I think before the last couple of years. And sometimes they do that by actual radicalization toward violence. And that could be one on one opportunistic crimes like we've seen many of those in Michael's reporting. And it can be mass acts of domestic terror, which we've seen in El Paso and Pittsburgh and Poway and elsewhere including overseas.
NNAMDIYou spent almost 20 years in the U.S. Attorney's Office. So how does a prosecutor decide whether or not to include the hate crime enhancement when bringing charges against a perpetrator?
MCCORDSo just as in assessing any criminal charges, the prosecutor is looking for what crime can she prove beyond a reasonable doubt every single element. So every crime is broken down into elements. And, of course, the bias related crimes, that's what it's called under the D.C. code is basically any crime of violence when committed based on prejudice toward a protected group and it might be race. It might be color, religion, gender identity, etcetera. And so for prosecutors that means not only do you have to prove every element of the underlying crime whether it's assault, murder, whatever it is, but also this added element of that it was done based on this perceived bias that's racially driven or --
NNAMDIHow difficult is that? How difficult is it to prove in court that a crime that happened was related to a bias?
MCCORDSo it all depends on the evidence, right? So it could be very much be based on the things that are said at the time of the crime. And I think that's probably what we see them most commonly, right? A lot of the crimes in Michaels's reporting said that, you know, there were verbiage used by the perpetrator right before and during the commission of the crime. But one of the problems that prosecutors face, and I can't say whether that's the case in any of these particular instances, is that oftentimes what's reported initially may be very different than what the prosecutor can prove in court.
MCCORDAnd there's many reasons for this. It could be that witnesses no longer want to participate. They don't want to come to court. Sometimes people are scared. They fear for their safety. They fear that if they get in court and they talk about what happened that they might become re-victimized. It's also very traumatic for people. And I've worked with victims of all types of crimes including things like -- I think Michael has mentioned burglars or robberies, things like that. Those have very traumatic effects on victims as well.
MCCORDThere also can be that's there's just not enough evidence. Sometimes we will call things like a "he said, she said" where all you really have is the victim and the defendant and they're both telling different stories. And it's hard to corroborate that with any additional evidence. And sometimes there can be other problems that come out too. That maybe the credibility of a witness that a prosecutor wants to rely on becomes damaged, because of other things. Sometimes -- and I'm not suggesting this with respect to any individual case. I'm just giving an overview of some of the challenges that prosecutors face. Sometimes it will turn out that a witness that the prosecutor wants to rely on has some, you know, has lied before. Has made false claims before or has some other information that under law the prosecutor has to provide to the defendant for him to use at his trial, him or her.
NNAMDIMichael, does your interpretation of the data indicate that including the hate crime enhancement can jeopardize the rest of the case?
MILLERThat's something that I heard from several former U.S. attorneys for D.C. and it's something I wanted to look at. And so we dove into that a little bit in the data and we found that the evidence, the data really didn't support that. You know, it seems that looking at cases over the past decade or so that juries were pretty good at looking at a case. And if there's a hate crime enhancement deciding -- perhaps they didn't think it was a hate crime, but still been able to convict on the underline charge. So, you know, we have heard that from prosecutors and I obviously don't want to dismiss that. That's something that they see in their experience. Then, you know, that's one reason why I spoke to several of them to really understand how difficult it is to prosecute hate crimes. But, you know, the data that I looked at really didn't back that up.
MILLERAnd, you know, I should point out that Mary made a lot of good points. These are hard cases often to prosecute. But we looked at cases not just from the past couple of years, but also from the past decade or so. And what's really startling I think for a lot of people is that we have had success prosecuting cases as hate crimes in the past. So if you look at 2011 to 2015 under another U.S. attorney, during that period there were 66 cases charged as hate crimes and 33 people convicted of hate crimes during that period. So compare that period to the past two years where we've had five cases prosecuted as hate crimes and so far at least no convictions for hate crimes. So what we're seeing is really a startling drop. And really the only person who can answer why that might be would be the current U.S. Attorney Jessie Liu.
NNAMDIRuby, do you feel the U.S. Attorney's Office has been responsive to activists' concerns about the rise of hate in the District?
MILLERWell, what I know for a fact is that we don't have a good relationship with many of the prosecutor entities. So therefore I know that since I began doing advocacy on behalf of victims is the systemic part, so many of the activists are trying to figure out ways how to prevent things. Working with MPD and I think in the last 15 years we have done some good work. I really -- it's about willingness and I don't know much about the Office of the -- you know, the United States attorney. So I can't say, you know this what we need to do, because when you don't have those type of relationships really I can't -- I just know that it's not existent.
NNAMDIAs we've heard one explanation, some people are pointing to for why we are seeing this increase in hate crime reports is that the Metropolitan Police Department is doing a better job of identifying the signs of a potential hate crime and reporting these incidents as such. Lieutenant Brett Parson who heads us the LGBT liaison unit at MPD told us about their process for investigating hate crimes when he was here back in June.
BRETT PARSONProving someone's motive has to be done by looking at not only their actions but also delving deeper into the surrounding activity of the offense. So things like what was going on before the offense occurred. If we're talking about a crime committed against a gay couple, were they holding hands, were they kissing, were they participating in an event that was clearly an LGBTQ event in the public? What was said? What was the language used? Is there a history with this individual of perhaps incident reports where they have used homophobic or transphobic language? Most of our hate crime offenses are really one time offenses where people -- their deep seated inhibitions come out and those prejudices come out and unfortunately while they're committing crimes.
NNAMDIIn Michael's reporting 204 suspected hate crimes reported last year, only 59 adults were actually arrested. Mary, are there things that MPD investigators can do or note that are particularly helpful to the prosecutor in building a strong hate crimes case?
MCCORDWell, I think one thing that's important is to get the witnesses in early to meet with the prosecutor when the decisions are being made. And one thing that -- frankly I was talking with Michael about before we went on the air, Kojo, is how many of the arrests were misdemeanors versus felonies. And the reason I ask that question is because the volume of misdemeanors prosecuted in the city is very staggering and most of the prosecutors have enormous caseloads, and sometimes don't have the chance to spend a lot of time with the victims. And it's an unfortunate circumstance, but it could play into some of what we're seeing in terms of not being able to bring some of these cases forward because by the time the prosecutor reaches out that witness might not be available, might not want to participate.
MCCORDSo I think if MPD, you know, getting that information very quickly into the prosecutor's hands and trying to get witnesses in to come in and meet with the prosecutor would be very helpful.
NNAMDIU.S. Attorney's Office for D.C. recently hired a second hate crimes coordinator. What will that person do and what kind of impact can having this additional personnel have on the number of cases that the U.S. Attorney's Office charges with the hate crime enhancement?
MCCORDWell, I think it will help a lot. You know, years and years ago I started in the office in 1994. And back at that time all misdemeanors were prosecuted by a group of assistants, who were doing, you know, everything from a trespassing to a domestic violence crime. And the U.S. attorney back -- I forget what year, created a separate section for domestic violence. And those prosecutors focused on domestic violence. And I think a similar focus on hate crime is warranted here whether it's at the misdemeanor or the felony level.
MCCORDProsecutors who really specialize in working with the victims of hate crimes, who understand the trauma, much like with domestic violence victims understand the trauma of those victims, can get them victim's services through victims' advocates who are employed by the U.S. Attorney's Office, and by other advocacy groups and to really try to build a relationship early and give sort of extra special attention to those cases over and above what some of the more run of the mill cases might get. And I don't mean to call any crime run of the mill. But I think it will help.
NNAMDIWe're almost out of time. Ruby, is there anything proactive that D.C. government and the community can do to address this violence beyond stepping up law enforcement? Is it possible to address root causes?
CORADOYeah. One of the things that I think is also we need to stop prosecuting people who very often are blamed for these hate crimes. We talked about how difficult it is to prove that someone was a victim of a hate crime. When usually there's enough evidence about what hate looks like either through extra violence, extra shootings, extra stabbings, extra, you know, a lot of blood, a lot of physical hurt. And I often think about how easy it is to prosecute most of the people that are facing that particularly around sex work. We have a large number of people, who get prosecuted for living and survival and it just doesn't seem equal. What I do think is that we do need to start a conversation that involves everyone and it's not just the people that are in charge of prosecuting these crimes.
NNAMDIRuby Corado is the founder of Casa Ruby a bilingual, multicultural, LGBTQ social services organization in the District. Thank you for joining us.
NNAMDIMichael Miller is a Local Enterprise Reporter with The Washington Post. Michael, thank you.
NNAMDIAnd Mary McCord is the Senior Litigator from practice at the Georgetown Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection. Thank you for joining us.
MCCORDThank you, Kojo.
NNAMDIGoing to take a short break, when we come back a look at tenants' rights and landlord responsibilities when it comes to safety in rental properties in the District, I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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