NJ attorney general calls rise in reported bias incidents ‘a crisis’
The number of reported bias incidents in New Jersey rose again last year to the highest level since 2011, with minors accounting for nearly half of the identified offenders.
The 569 reported bias incidents was 4% more than in 2017 – when a 32% increase in reported incidents was recorded, the largest jump since at least 2006. The numbers are similar to national trends.
In conjunction with the report’s release, the Murphy administration created an interagency task force that will hold hearings and issue a report in six months on addressing bias incidents among students and young adults.
“Yes, it is a crisis,” said Attorney General Gurbir Grewal. “When half the known incidents where we have known offenders, where we have arrested people, when approximately half of the 59 people being arrested are young people, yes, that is a crisis.
“When half the incidents being reported occur on college campuses or universities or in elementary schools, yes, that is a crisis,” he said. “When the number of reported incidents increase over the last five to six years, when we see a nearly 10 year downward trend, yes, that is a crisis. When this marries up to FBI [Uniform Crime Report] numbers across the country increasing, yes, that is a crisis.”
Rachel Wainer Apter, director of the state Division on Civil Rights, said the report says the government must vigorously investigate and prosecute bias incidents but that addressing the issue also requires help from community leaders, faith leaders, parents and teachers.
“This report could not come at a more important time,” Apter said. “Bias-based hate, dehumanization and persistent othering is one of the greatest challenges that we face as a country and as a state.”
The bias incident report covers two years because one wasn’t issued last year.
Bias incidents are defined as offenses that are committed because of the victim’s perceived or actual race, color, religion, gender, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, national origin or ethnicity.
The report finds that 54% of reported bias incidents last year were motivated by the victim’s race or ethnicity, with nearly three-quarters aimed at African-Americans. Around 35 percent were motivated by a victim’s religion, the bulk of those aimed at Jews.
Of the 227 known offenders in 2018, 105 – 46% — were minors, up 67% from a year earlier. Seventy-nine percent of known offenders were male, and 79% were white.
Thirty-two incidents were recorded at elementary and secondary schools, a new category added by the State Police.
“Probably the most concerning trend in the report involves bias incidents among our young people,” Grewal said. “The number of bias incidents committed by and against students and minors is disturbing.”
“In 2018, nearly half of the known offenders were minors” Grewal said. “So if we’re going to conquer hate, we need to do a better job of confronting bias among our young people.”
In both 2017 and 2018, more incidents were reported on college and universities campuses than anywhere else. Jared Maples, director of the Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness, said there has been “a pretty marked uptick” in in-person recruiting and fliers on campus.
“Rutgers-New Brunswick has certainly seen those, there’s no question about that, along with many other universities and schools here in New Jersey,” Maples said.
State officials say they can’t be certain if the numbers reflect an increase in the number of incidents, an increase in reporting or – mostly likely, in their estimation – both. Grewal said it could be increased reporting as the state works to make undocumented immigrants comfortable to approach police.