Measuring Hate: Local crimes and errors uncovered

CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) - The Lowcountry is known for hospitality and friendliness, frequently named a top destination for people from all over the world to visit.

Yet even here, there are violent crimes every year rooted in hatred. When many of us picture a hate crime close to home, we think of Dylann Roof’s attack at Mother Emanuel.

He targeted black worshipers and was later convicted of federal hate crimes. He’s awaiting the death penalty in prison.

But there are other, albeit less tragic, examples of hate hiding in our community.

In Beaufort in 2017 there was a rash of racist vandalism. Red spray paint of “KKK” and other racial slurs on pavement, buildings and in a park.

The police report showed the suspect in those crimes said he wasn’t part of the KKK but was just upset about the monuments debate and acted out of “stupidity.”

In Moncks Corner, one report detailed an instance when a black woman and her daughter, who was biracial, were followed out of Walmart by a man. He followed in his car, too, and spit on the mother’s face, calling her the n-word.

This past August, a transgender woman was punched in the face outside a nightclub downtown Charleston. Police there are considering the act a hate crime.

Charleston Police Chief Luther Reynolds said we must to a better job tallying up reliable numbers about hate crimes.

“We as a community really have to have an awareness, a sense of tracking, a grasp of to what degree does that occur here? And the degree that it does- we need to rally around and have total clarity against hate as a community.”

The FBI's most recent hate crime data is from 2017.

In South Carolina, a total of 87 hate crimes were reported from 46 law enforcement agencies.

63 were related to race and ethnicity, 11 for religion, 12 for sexual orientation, and one for disability.

Our national investigative unit recently reported how the FBI is required to keep tabs on those numbers but individual agencies aren’t required to submit them.

“We literally do not know how many hate crimes there are every year,” said Heidi Beirich, director of the Intelligence Project with the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Beirich points to studies from the Department of Justice that found there are 250,000 hate crimes a year in the U.S.

“You contrast that to the maybe five or six thousand the FBI reports, and that means we're only capturing 5% of the data.”

After we started requesting police reports labeled as hate crimes, three local agencies said they uncovered clerical errors and had accidentally reported incidents to the FBI data collection as hate crimes that were not actually hate crimes.

Summerville Police, for example, said the code they use to report a non-biased crime it is 88. The code for a bias or hate crime is 99.

8 and 9 are beside each other on the keyboard, which led to the mistake, they said.

ProPublica reporters have uncovered similar data entry errors while requested incident reports as part of its “Documenting Hate” project.

They shared documents with Live 5 showing hate crime incidents from Charleston, North Charleston and Horry County over the past several years.

We are in the process of requesting records from all local police and sheriff’s departments.

“The data is so unreliable that it's a crisis frankly,” said Beirich. “If we don't have good numbers, we don't know what the dimensions of this violence might be or how serious it is.”

In South Carolina 392 patrol troops, cities, counties and colleges reported "zero" hate crime to the FBI in 2017.

Many agencies don't report at all.

Why?

“The range of reasons for why this stuff doesn't get reported is really deep,” explained Beirich. “Some cops just don't get trained on it so they don't know what they're looking for.”

Other times, she said, proper coding and forms isn’t even available for officers to report bias crimes.

She says the Association of Chiefs of Police is trying to come up with better standards so officers handle these cases consistently.

“Let's say we have an assault and the person who committed it expresses some racial resentment. They may think it's more important to mark assault than hate crime- [officers] may not even understand you can do both,” she said.

“Nothing’s never going to be a solve-all,” said Rep. Wendell Gilliard. “But sometimes being quiet and non-participant is deadly. We don’t need that in South Carolina. Our history teaches us that.”

This year Gilliard proposed a hate crimes law in South Carolina. Ours is one of five states without one, as Raphael James reported as part of our series on hate crimes this week.

“For people who are somewhat slack and just don’t care? Don’t wait until it knocks at your door,” said Gilliard.

He hopes such a law would help train police – truly track the numbers - and help us see where and why hate crimes are happening.

We are still in the process of gathering incident reports about local hate crimes.

Live 5 is partners with Pro Publica’s Documenting Hate Project, which is collecting reports on hate crimes and bias incidents. If you've been a victim or a witness of a hate incident,tell us your story here.

Our “Measuring Hate” series continues Friday with a closer look at the hate groups in our own backyard.

New numbers released this week show such groups are on the rise in South Carolina.

Live 5 Investigates the concern that hate may be coming from groups not even on this list. That story airs Friday at 11 p.m. on Live 5 News.

Copyright 2019 WCSC. All rights reserved.

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