Advisory Bulletin from the Governor's Task Force on Hate Crimes
The Governor's Task Force on Hate Crimes is issuing this Advisory Bulletin to alert Massachusetts law enforcement, educators, and community stakeholders to the danger of heightened anti-Arab and anti-Islamic hate crimes, in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 attacks on New York City and Washington. Anti-Arab and anti-Islamic bias are prohibited motives for violence, threats, harassment, and vandalism under Massachusetts hate crimes laws. Commonwealth law enforcement officials, educators, and citizens should be aware of the increased risk of hate crimes targeting Arab and Islamic Americans, and be prepared to respond appropriately. It is the policy of the Commonwealth that hate crimes laws should be vigorously applied to protect the Arab-American and Islamic communities of the Bay State.
The most basic elements of hate crimes law enforcement and prevention call for
- Reporting of hate crimes by victims and witnesses to police via 911 numbers statewide;
- Careful police attention to bias indicator evidence;
- Careful investigation of potential hate crimes according to standing law enforcement guidelines;
- Appropriate charging and prosecution of hate crimes; and
- Citizen initiative and responsibility to join efforts to "stop the hate" in schools and communities.
According to CNN, reports of hate crimes against Muslims and south Asians have risen "exponentially" across the US in the wake of Tuesday's terror attacks. The FBI has announced that it is investigating some 40 potential anti-Arab hate crimes nationwide. The Council on American-Islamic Relations reports having received more than 300 reports of harassment and abuse from last Tuesday through Thursday, almost half the total number received for all of 2000. Cases range from episodes of verbal abuse to two potentially race-motivated murders. Examples include the case of a Pakistani woman in Huntington, N.Y. who was nearly run down by a man threatening to kill her for ''destroying my country.'' In Bridgeview, Ill., about 300 demonstrators tried to march on a mosque before being turned back by police.
Episodes of possible anti-Arab or Islamic bias have occurred in Massachusetts. In Palmer, Massachusetts, fliers were distributed calling for boycotts of businesses thought to be owned by Americans of Middle-Eastern descent. In Weymouth on Wednesday, September 12, a gas pump at a Lebanese-owned station was set on fire. In Quincy, the window at Almaeedah Market convenience store was smashed Thursday, September 13.
At the same time, the hijackings and destruction of September 11th stand out as "hate crimes" against Americans, and illustrate the similarity between acts of terrorism and hate crimes. In both instances perpetrators are seeking to place a whole group, a whole people in fear because of who they are. We must reject racial and cultural hatred, to remain free ourselves of the evil that propelled the terrorists of September 11th.
Speaking on Friday, September 14, Governor Jane Swift called on citizens to remember the difference between American values and the hatred that motivated last Tuesday's terrorists. "[D]iversity is our most important asset. Intolerance is repugnant to our way of life. We must not in anger turn on our neighbors of a different skin color or a different faith or a different place of birth. There is no heroism or patriotism in such acts, just a cowardice that reopens the wounds of this and other tragedies."
Massachusetts has some of the toughest hate crimes laws in the country. Both the U.S. and the Massachusetts Attorneys General have warned would-be perpetrators of hate crimes against retaliatory attacks against Arabs and Muslims.
A "hate crime" is a crime in which the perpetrator's conduct is motivated, in whole or in part, by hatred, bias, or prejudice, based on the actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin, gender, disability, or sexual orientation of another group or individual. "Anti-Arab" bias is defined under Massachusetts law to constitute "racial, ethnic, [or] national origin" prejudice, while "anti-Islamic" bias constitutes "religious" bigotry under Massachusetts law.
Hate crimes are characterized by bias indicators: "objective facts, circumstances or patterns attending a criminal act(s) which, standing alone or in conjunction with other facts and circumstances, suggest that an offender's actions were motivated, in whole or in part, by any [prohibited] form of bias..." The most common bias indicators are verbal slurs, epithets, and bigoted language, written or spoken. Careful attention to bias indicator evidence is essential to appropriate investigation and charging of these offenses.
Massachusetts hate crimes laws increase the penalty that applies to crimes of violence, threats and harassment, and property damage whenever a prohibited bias motive is found to have existed. For example, the hate crimes statutes increase the penalty applicable to a simple assault and battery, which causes even minor injury to its victim, from a mere two and one-half years, to as much as seventeen and one-half years incarceration. Hate-motivated activity also exposes perpetrators to the risk of being subjected to a civil rights injunction.
More extensive information about hate crimes laws, resources, and contacts are available at the web sites of the Governor's Task Force on Hate Crimes: Stop the Hate and Civil Rights. The Task Force stands ready to assist police, schools, and community groups with technical information, training, and referrals. If you require further assistance, please contact the Task Force at either 617-727-6300 ext. 25339 (law enforcement & community groups) or 617-727-6300 ext. 25359 (schools). There are also opportunities for greater involvement: a series of Stop the Hate vigils are being planned for early October across the state. (More information will appear at Stop the Hate.) The Task Force also provides for on-line hate crimes reporting at Stop the Hate, for Massachusetts students.
Included with this bulletin is basic information on charging hate crimes, for the use of law enforcement officers and District Attorneys. Also included is a flier with basic information for Arab-American families discussing civil rights issues, and addressing the current climate.