Metro

Hate crimes in Mass. rose last year to their highest level in more than a decade

A memorial for the 11 victims killed by a shooter at Tree of Life Congregation in Pittsburgh in October. Hate crime increased 17 percent last year from 2016, the FBI has reported, and a new state report said the number of hate crimes in Massachusetts in 2017 reached its highest level since 2003.
Hilary Swift/New York Times
A memorial for the 11 victims killed by a shooter at Tree of Life Congregation in Pittsburgh in October. Hate crime increased 17 percent last year from 2016, the FBI has reported, and a new state report said the number of hate crimes in Massachusetts in 2017 reached its highest level since 2003.

The number of reported hate crimes in Massachusetts rose last year to its highest level in more than a decade, according to a new state report.

The 427 incidents were the most since 2003, and a 10 percent increase from the 391 incidents reported in 2016, according to the state Executive Office of Public Safety and Security.

African-Americans were the most frequent targets, accounting for 34 percent of the incidents, followed by Jews, at 21 percent, and LGBTQ people, at 16 percent.

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The largest category of crimes, 38 percent, involved vandalism and property damage such as graffiti in schools, which were the most common location for hate crimes.

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Intimidation was the second most frequently reported crime, at 30 percent, followed by assault, at 26 percent. Thirty-seven incidents, or 9 percent, involved aggravated assault.

The report was the latest evidence that hate crimes have risen markedly since the 2016 election. Nationwide, hate crimes rose by 17 percent in 2017, according to the FBI.

Jack McDevitt, a Northeastern University criminologist, said while there is no single factor behind the increase, it is connected to the harsh national discourse and the willingness of public officials to vilify immigrants and racial, religious, and ethnic groups.

Such rhetoric began before President Trump was elected, McDevitt said, but it has been legitimized by the president’s frequent comments blaming immigrants and outsiders for bringing crime to the United States.

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“There was a coarsening and dehumanization that was going on, and it continues to get more widespread,” he said.

Robert Trestan, executive director of the Anti-Defamation League’s Boston office, said the report signals that while hate crimes are increasing across Massachusetts and the country, more people may also be reporting such incidents to police. He said he was encouraged that Governor Charlie Baker reinstated a state hate crimes task force in November 2017.

The task force recently recommended that every law enforcement agency in Massachusetts designate at least one officer to be a point person on hate crimes, better train officers to respond to such incidents, and increase public access to data about incidents in their communities.

“By making this a priority, we are protecting ourselves from becoming immune,” said Trestan, a member of the task force. “Hate in the public square is not normal, and we cannot allow it to become normal.”

Arline Isaacson, cochair of the Massachusetts Gay and Lesbian Political Caucus, said the report shows how the rhetoric coming from Trump and his supporters has made it more acceptable for people to embrace their biases, even in states like Massachusetts with progressive reputations.

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“There used to be a veneer, minimally, to not say it, even if they think it,” she said. “And now, that veneer is gone from many people. It’s OK to think it, to believe it, to say it, and support it, and that’s a real change. And, candidly, it’s a little frightening.”

Northampton Police Chief Jody D. Kasper said it’s important for police to pay attention to incidents that indicate deeper problems, even if they don’t qualify as hate crimes. She gave the example of someone ripping a Black Lives Matter sign in half.

“Those are certainly the types of crimes that I think we as leaders in our community should be keeping an eye on because we want to know the pulse of what’s motivating these type of events,” said Kasper, who also serves on the Governor’s Hate Crimes Task Force. “We’re recording hate crimes, but there are these other bias incidents that are also notable, and something we’ve seen an increase in across our country.”

D.J. Williams, a junior at Amherst College and member of the task force, said panel members also believe it’s important to combat hatred through education, particularly given how many of the incidents take place on high school and college campuses.

“The general expectation is that people will grow out of any bias that they have once they become adults, somehow magically,” said Williams, 19. “But . . . people in colleges still carry these biases and those people are going to be adults and going to be our nation’s leaders one day.”

Levenson can be reached at Michael.Levenson@globe.com.