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Federal Hate Crime Prosecutions ‘Falling’: Report

Prosecutions under federal hate crime statutes have declined, according to the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) at Syracuse University.

There have been just under 2,000 referrals since fiscal year 2009 under the five federal statutes enacted to combat hate crimes, and only 15 percent have resulted in federal prosecutions, said TRAC in a new report.

“Despite the renewed public attention being given to the commission of hate crimes, referrals to the federal government under hate crime statutes have actually been falling,” TRAC added, noting that records dating to FY 1986 indicate that “1,000 or more hate crime referrals occurred in these earlier years.”

The number of prosecutions has continued to drop under the administration of President Donald Trump.

U.S. attorneys received 99 referrals during the first nine months of 2019 under the statutes, but only 17 resulted in a federal prosecution, according to TRAC.

The report noted that “despite around 50 criminal referrals each year to federal prosecutors for … hate crimes, few have resulted in actual charges filed in federal court.”

But the number of prosecutions brought under the 2009  Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which expanded the scope of hate crimes for prosecutors to act upon, has been even “rarer” under the present administration, TRAC noted.

In the first nine months of the 2019 fiscal year, only four cases resulted in federal prosecution under that Act. Six prosecutions were reported each year for FY 2017 and 2018.

The 2009 Act joined four other hate crime statutes already in the books. The first, passed in 1968, made it a crime to use force or threaten to use force against a person participating in a “federally protected activity” because of race, color, religion or national origin. That act was followed by other statutes further expanding the types of activities punishable by law, including—with the 2009 Act—attacks based on gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, and disability.

The recent El Paso, Tx., mass shooting is expected to trigger federal hate crime charges, after law enforcement found an online manifesto posted by the gunman which communicated a desire to prevent Hispanics from “replacing” whites in the U.S.

According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), reported hate crimes increased by 17 percent in 2017, part of a steady upward trend.

The FBI is credited for a big piece of the 2019 referrals. Of the 99, the 88 were referred by the bureau, said TRAC.

The complete TRAC report is available here.

This summary was prepared by TCR news intern Brian Demo