Last year, hate crimes in the United States were the highest since 2001 but fell slightly in California, while the North Coast saw a somewhat steady number compared to previous years.
According to the FBI's 2008 Hate Crime Statistics, 7,783 incidents were reported nationwide, up from 7,624 a year earlier.
In California, however, the number went down slightly from 1,400 in 2007 to 1,381 last year. And according to the statistics, three hate crimes were reported in Eureka in 2008 -- two where the victims were targeted because of sexual orientation, and one where the victim was targeted because of ethnicity. The numbers represent a modest increase over previous years, as FBI statistics show that one hate crime was reported in the city in 2007; zero in 2006; two in 2005; and zero in 2004.
Eureka Police Chief Garr Nielsen said that because of the nature of the crimes, they're difficult for law enforcement to prevent. But, Nielsen said, aggressively investigating them and bringing perpetrators to justice sends a dual message: telling offenders these crimes will not be tolerated and showing victims they will be taken seriously if they come forward.
”Probably the most effective thing that law enforcement can do is very aggressively investigate these crimes when they're reported and make it clear that we take them extremely seriously and that we really treat them as a high priority,” Nielsen said. “I think that's probably the best message that
The statistics list the bias motivation for the reported crimes as race, religion, sexual orientation, ethnicity/national origin, and disability. The most crimes in the race category were aimed at blacks, with 2,276. With religion, Jews were most often targeted, with 1,013 crimes. When sexual orientation was apparently the motivating issue, the most attacks were against gay males, with 776 crimes reported.
According to the numbers, Humboldt State University received two reports of hate crimes in 2008, with both victims being targeted for their ethnicity. Since 2003, the University Police Department has received seven reports of hate crimes, according to the FBI statistics, with victims targeted for their race, sexual orientation and ethnicity.
UPD Chief Tom Dewey said HSU tries to promote a cultural where students and other members of the community are encouraged to report discriminatory incidents.
”Some of them rise to a criminal event and other don't, but our community is very sensitive to reporting events that are discriminatory. ... We feel like Humboldt is often one of the safest places to be because of that culture,” he said, adding that community outreach and a supportive environment is important.
”We try to keep lines of communications as open as possible,” Dewey said. “We're proud that our police department is one of the most diverse on the North Coast.”
Half of UPD's staff are women, three are Native American and three are black.
In addition, HSU encourages discourse on these types of issues, by promoting events like the Dialogue on Race that was held earlier this month, Dewey said.
When it comes to hate crimes of any kind, Nielsen said, victims having the courage to step forward and report the crime is the first step.
”I can't encourage people enough to report suspected hate crimes if they are victimized or become aware of them through some other source,” he said.
Jessica Pettitt, a national consultant and trainer in social justice and diversity for college students and administrators, said she couldn't speak to Eureka's or HSU's numbers directly, but hate crimes are generally underreported for various reasons.
Pettitt, who has been consulting for about 10 years, said universities may have completely different judicial systems set up so those bias incidents aren't reported to local authorities. Conversely, people who are the targets of bias-related incidents may be too afraid or uncomfortable with reporting an incident, she said.
The person that the target has to talk to is likely to be of a dominant identity group and may not be able to understand the experiences of the target group, Pettitt said.
”It's just basic fear -- on both sides -- perpetrator and target,” she said.
Pettitt said universities and communities have to realize that everyone, including targets of bias, have a social responsibility to acknowledge that prejudices exist and that we all have biases.
The environment created by these biases and prejudices may serve to create the social foundation in which hate crimes become actualized, she added.
”When you live in a community that likes to describe itself as very liberal and very inclusive -- and I'm saying this isn't just Humboldt, although it fits that profile --what ends up happening is that when bias-related incidents occur people don't want to report it because they don't want to rock the boat or be further traumatized and others are likely to disregard the negative experience as yet another isolated incident,” she said.
The report also lists the locations of the reported crimes last year, with most happening in homes -- 2,480 -- and the fewest number of incidents taking place in rental storage facilities -- seven. A significant number of hate crimes -- 1,354 -- occurred on highways, roads, streets and alleys, as well as at schools and colleges, with 907.
Staff writers Chris Durant, Donna Tam and Thadeus Greenson contributed to this report.