The fatal shooting of eight people in Atlanta area spas, including six women of Asian descent, has called attention to the rise in racist incidents against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.
Georgia authorities hesitated to call the murders, committed by a white man, hate crimes, drawing anger from members of Asian and Pacific Islander communities, who argue such incidents targeting their demographic are already underreported. New Jersey saw a significant spike in bias incidents in 2020, particularly against Black, Asian and Hispanic residents, though officials also cautioned their tally was likely an undercount.
Community leaders say some of the reasons why attacks go unreported include fear of drawing too much attention, thinking that there’s no reason to report an incident that didn’t end in physical assault, and mistrust in law enforcement over whether they’ll take incidents seriously. A patchwork of reporting mechanisms in the tri-state area also makes it difficult to know just how much higher the number of incidents could be.
Still, the general guidance from investigators across all three states is to report any hate incident you experience or witness — even if the victim believes it may not lead to an arrest. Here’s what you need to know:
Hate speech vs. hate crimes
Freedom of speech provided by the First Amendment protects what’s often considered hateful, such as name calling and insults, but speech that threatens a person’s safety is not protected.
In Pennsylvania, for example, a hate crime is a criminal offense, such as a robbery, vandalism or physical assault, motivated by “real or perceived race, color, religion, or national origin” — sexual orientation and gender identity are not included in that list, though activists are trying to change that. Delaware and New Jersey’s hate crimes statutes do include sexual orientation and gender identity.
Municipalities can have additional hate crime protections. In Philadelphia, an incident can be considered a hate crime if motivated by someone’s real or perceived sexual orientation, gender identity, gender or disability.
Officials recommend reporting hate crimes to local law enforcement, while incidents of hate speech can be reported to local human relations commissions.
How to report in Pennsylvania
If you were a victim of vandalism, threats or assault and you believe the act was motivated by your actual or perceived race, color, religion or national origin, the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission recommends you report it to local law enforcement.
Reports should not be limited to physical assault or destruction of property, but a crime must be in process in order to merit an ethnic intimidation charge, which is how hate crimes are prosecuted in the commonwealth.
Electronic harassment, as well as harassment that takes place in person, can be reported. Criminal trespass, arson or firebombing, threats of violence, robberies and vandalism are crimes that can merit an additional ethnic intimidation charge if believed to be motivated by prejudice.
In addition to reaching out to local authorities, the Pennsylvania State Police can investigate these incidents. The Heritage Affairs Section works with local law enforcement and community organizations to investigate these incidents.
If people fear dealing with police, they can call an anonymous tip line at 1-800-4PA-TIPS, which is monitored 24/7 with translation services. People can also submit tips through the email email@example.com or call the non-emergency line at 717-783-5599, which is staffed Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.
What information should you provide?
It helps investigators for you to have as much information about the person making verbal or physical threats as possible. Tattoos, clothing, license plates, and any other identifying features offer the most help.
Even if you don’t have much of that information, the location of an attack can generally be reported. At the very least, say authorities, it helps them identify emerging patterns of attacks motivated by hate.
What if you have little detail on your attacker?
You should still report the incident to law enforcement and organizations that track these incidents. They can connect you to victim services, says executive director of the Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations Randy Duque.
Duque said his agency often has little to follow up on if the person reporting wants to remain anonymous and leaves no contact details, but even an anonymous report still allows his staff to identify a rise in hate incidents and craft a community response to deescalate tensions. Duque said the PCHR can facilitate community conversations or mediation to address and reduce these tensions.
The PCHR number is 215-686-4670. Its anonymous hotline is 215-686-2856. The PCHR also takes emails at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Duque said law enforcement should not be asking you for your immigration status and all Philly agencies have access to translation services.
How to report in New Jersey
New Jersey has nine protected classes: race, color, religion, gender, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, and national origin. Like its neighbor, New Jersey finds a crime committed against a person or property — such as racially motivated graffiti, harassment, assault, terroristic threats, arson, criminal mischief or homicide — and motivated by someone’s protected class can carry a stronger penalty.
Victims’ first stop should be their local police department, but if they’re uncomfortable doing so they can reach out to their county prosecutor’s office, which has staff assigned to the Bias Crimes Unit to investigate these crimes.
The New Jersey Attorney General’s Office also has a Bias Hotline at 800-277-2427 and can be reached via email at NJBIAS@NJDCJ.org.
People can also report incidents in real time to the New Jersey Division of Civil Rights through an online form.
How to report in Delaware
Delaware’s hate crime statute can be triggered in one of two ways, says Mark Denney, director of the Division of Civil Rights and Public Trust, part of the Delaware Attorney General’s Office.
One way is if the perpetrator commits a crime “for the purpose of interfering with the victim’s free exercise or enjoyment of any right, privilege or immunity protected by the First Amendment.” So if a person is assaulted or robbed while they’re on their way to a protest or religious service, the perpetrator could be charged with a hate crime, explained Denney.
The other way a person can be charged with a hate crime is if they commit a crime and select “the victim because of the victim’s race, religion, color, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity, national origin, or ancestry.”
In either scenario, people should report these incidents to their local police department.
Because the state doesn’t have county district attorneys, police can forward a potential hate crime case to the Division of Civil Rights and Public Trust (DCRPT).
Still, Denney said the state’s centralized criminal justice information system lets the department flag potential hate crime cases, even if the police don’t send them along.
People can also report an incident directly to DCRPT by phone: 302-577-5400. A bilingual online form is available in English and Spanish and people can also email complaints to email@example.com.
According to Denney, proving someone selected a victim of a crime because of their protected class is difficult to do and his office has recommended the General Assembly change the language in the state’s hate crime statute. The proposed changes would make it possible to charge someone with a hate crime if they were partially driven by the victim’s race or other protected class.