ZACHARY: State must get serious about hate crime; total transparency absolutely necessary

DomeLight by Jim Zachary 

Hate crime is exactly what it sounds like, crime fueled by hatred. 

Georgia lawmakers have taken a few steps toward addressing hate crimes targeting people of color and marginalized groups and individuals in our state but there is more work to be done. 

Tying hate crimes legislation to any other issues is demeaning and unconscionable. 

The state of Georgia does not look good in a new FBI report out this week. 

In the annual FBI Hate Crimes Report it is no surprise, whatsoever, that Black people — by far — are the targets of more hate crimes than any other demographic group in the U.S. and in Georgia. 

Asian people and members of the LGBTQ community are also being targeted with greater frequency in the nation and in Georgia. 

Across our state, law enforcement agencies reported nearly 50 more hate crimes last year than in the previous year. 

One very disturbing part of the annual FBI report is that fewer law enforcement agencies in Georgia participated in the voluntary survey. 

What that means, of course, is some local officials and top cops either don’t take hate crime very seriously or they don’t believe it exists. 

That is beyond unacceptable. 

In the very state where three white men hunted down and one of them shot and killed 25-year-old Ahmaud Arbery, it is completely without excuse that so many agencies did not even bother to participate in the important study. The very county where Arbery was shot did not report data. 

People and agencies with nothing to hide, don’t hide. 

Absolute transparency is essential when it comes to all hate crime. 

Only 401 of Georgia’s 657 law enforcement agencies participated in the voluntary FBI hate crimes data collection, compared to 508 agencies in 2019. That must change. 

The only thing that can be said about the abysmal self reporting across the state of Georgia, is that it was better than Alabama where only a handful of cases were reported and where agencies had the audacity to suggest more hate crimes in their state were committed against white people than people of color. 

The Federal Bureau of Investigations does not, or cannot, require city, county and state law enforcement agencies to collect and report data for its annual Hate Crimes Report. 

However, state lawmakers could tie agency funding to local participation in the annual survey — and should. 

Georgia lawmakers are expected to take up the proliferation of violent crime in Atlanta and across the state either later this year in a special session or when they reconvene in January. No discussions about violent crime in our state will be sufficient without more fully addressing hate crimes and building on the legislation passed during the most recent legislative session. 

Jim Zachary is the editor of the Valdosta Daily Times, CNHI’s director of newsroom training and development and president emeritus of the Georgia First Amendment Foundation. 

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