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Police clarify '17 hate crimes in town, issue stern message



UPDATED, Nov. 16: Three town departments are aware of a nationwide increase in hate speech and crimes in recent years, issuing a news release Friday, Nov. 16, to declare that they have risen up to meet hatred head-on when incidents are reported.

Police Chief Frederick Ryan and Director of Health and Human Services Christine Bongiorno report that the town's partnership-based approach -- involving Health and Human Services, the Human Rights Commission and police -- will continue until there are zero acts of hatred in the community.

The release was in response to an FBI report this week saying 14 hate crimes were reported in Arlington in 2017, the second-highest number in the state among reporting communities. The town has clarified that number, reducing it to 11.

"Arlington is one of the few police departments in the U.S. that reports instances of hate and bias-motivated crime to the federal government," the news release from John Guilfoil Public Relations says. "Nationally, nearly 90 percent of all police departments report zero hate crimes to the FBI.

257 report 'zero incidents'

"In Massachusetts, 102 of the commonwealth's 414 police departments reported hate crimes to the FBI in 2017, with 257 reporting 'zero incidents' and 55 reporting no data at all to the FBI. Additionally, there is broad discretion in the law for labeling vandalism and graffiti as a hate crime."

Chief Ryan said in the release: "A swastika drawn in a public place and the destruction of a cultural diversity banner are not just acts of vandalism; they are acts of hate, and we treat them as such in Arlington. As a society, we can avoid an unpleasant discussion by pressing different buttons on a computer, but in Arlington we do not believe that is the solution."

Hate crimes have been on the rise across the country over the past four years, and Arlington is no exception. In 2017, the Arlington Police Department responded to 11 incidents that were classified as hate crimes (14 incidents were reported to the FBI, but three incidents were miscategorized and reported in error and have been corrected).

Number corrected

In 2017 Arlington reported:

-- Seven targeted acts of Antisemitism, such as anti-Jewish slurs and swastikas drawn in public places (crimes motivated by religion).

-- Two crimes motivated by race or ethnicity (one act of targeted written hate speech and one act of aggravated assault).

-- One crime motivated by a person's disabled status.

-- One crime motivated by gender identity.

Each incident was investigated thoroughly by the Arlington Police Department, and in each instance, relevant municipal and independent agencies, such as the Human Rights Commission, Rainbow Commission, Council on Aging, Health and Human Services or the Anti-Defamation League were contacted for a consultation.

"Hate crime response starts at the law enforcement level, but it ends as a community-wide response in Arlington," said Naomi Greenfield, cochair of the Human Rights Commission. "The partnerships we have formed among the police department, human services agencies and nonprofits such as the Anti-Defamation League and the diverse array of clergy in Arlington have proven invaluable. By working together, we are able to tackle the roots of hatred, rather than allowing incidents to fester and escalate by ignoring them."

17 percent increase nationwide

In Massachusetts, reporting agencies showed a 9 percent increase in hate crimes in 2017 versus 2016. Nationwide, hate crimes were up 17 percent over the same period.

Arlington's 11 hate crimes in 2017 match the total in 2016. There have also been 11 hate crimes in Arlington this year through Nov. 15.

"The Rainbow Commission is thankful for the Arlington Police Department's thoughtful and compassionate approach to these problems, and for Chief Ryan's strong commitment to community policing and coalition building," said Anna Watson, chair of Arlington's LGBTQIA+ Rainbow Commission.

"We know that people can feel uncomfortable reporting crimes for many reasons," said Mel Goldsipe, Rainbow Commission vice chair. "But I hope people see our Human Rights, Rainbow, and Disability Commissions as clear signs that the town takes these issues seriously. So people should feel confident that whether they report an incident to one of these groups or to the police directly, it will be taken seriously." 

Globe, Nov. 14: A plague of racist graffiti has Reading schools on edge

High-profile hate incidents in Arlington include antigay and anti-Semitic vandalism at Arlington High School last May, swastikas at Ottoson Middle School last February and the slashing of a "Black Lives Matter" banner in 2016.

Behind Arlington, Salem had 13 reported hate crimes, Newton 12, Quincy 11 and Cambridge and Somerville 10 each.

Massachusetts saw a 9-percent increase in hate crimes in 2017 over the year before, The Boston Globe reported

Nationwide, reported hate crime increased 17 percent. There were 7,175 such incidents reported in America in 2017, more than 1,000 more than in 2016. See all 2017 FBI data >>

May 5: 2018: SLURS: Police report reveals some facts, a source some others

March 25, 2016: Defaced 'black lives matter' banner gets Holy Week repair 

This news summary was published Wednesday, Nov. 14, 2018, and updated Nov. 16, to add lnews release.

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