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Hate crimes spiked in Michigan last year, FBI data show

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Michigan saw a 29% increase in reported hate crimes in 2016, according to data from the FBI. As reported from Michigan law enforcement agencies to the FBI, hate crime victims were most commonly targeted because of their race or ethnicity.

399 hate crimes were reported in Michigan last year. That’s up from 309 in 2015.

Yet, hate crimes can be difficult to prosecute. Former state representative Rashida Tlaib says she’s heard that from prosecuting attorneys she’s talked to in her work with Sugar Law Center in Detroit and Take On Hate, a grassroots initiative to battle social prejudices against Arab and Muslim Americans.

Tlaib says prosecutors sometimes need more information about an alleged hate crime – they need the answers to questions that sometimes don’t get asked in the course of police investigations.

“There’s a disconnect. I don’t think police officers aren’t doing their job,” Tlaib said. “When we hear prosecutors say they don’t have enough information or it’s very difficult to prosecute.... It’s because of the way [a hate crime] is investigated prior to it actually being considered by a local prosecutor.”

Tlaib says she wants local law enforcement agencies to get more resources specifically to train officers to investigate hate crimes specifically.

In Michigan, 625 law enforcement agencies reported Hate Crime data to the FBI for 2016. That’s the fifth highest number of participating agencies in all states. It may partially explain why Michigan is the tenth largest state in terms of total population, but ranks fourth nationally in reported hate crimes.

Michigan Department of Civil Rights Director Agustin Arbulu says his department noticed an uptick in complaints during and in the wake of last year’s presidential election, including several reported incidents at schools in the state.

“During November 2016, January 2017, a number of these incidents took place in K-12 settings, primarily in middle school settings,” Arbulu said. “This is especially a concern where you have students of color who go to predominantly white schools ... are fearful of speaking out and can be targeted.”

Tlaib thinks hate crimes are still an under-reported phenomenon in Michigan. She says she’s worked with victims of hate crimes that are dismissive of the crimes and hesitant to report them if, for example, it could stir up trouble in the workplace, or school.

She says encouraging victims to report the crimes might help underline the need for additional resources.

“I think the more people coming forward and seeing a trend may push legislators and others who may have the power, to get the funding into local law enforcement,” Tlaib said. 

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