By SILU GUO
Capital News Service
LANSING – Last November in Bay City, Delane Bell shouted “Osama bin Laden” and “jihad” at two men of Indian descent outside a bar, punched one of them and struck their car.
Bell was convicted of ethnic intimidation.
It was only one among a growing number of recent hate crime cases reported in the state.
According to the State Police, 403 hate crimes incidents were reported last year, an 8 percent increase compared with 2010.
Those incidents involved 487 victims. Most were assaults, intimidation, stalking and property damage.
“Unfortunately, hate crimes always happen toward the minority,” said Emily Dievendorf, director of policy for Equality Michigan, an advocacy organization that works on sexual orientation and gender identity issues.
Gregory Varnum, the development coordinator of Equality Michigan, said hate crimes are underreported.
“The 8 percent increase rate is not a surprise,” Varnum said. “It is common to see the rate increases from year to year.”
However, Melanie Brown, the communication director of the Department of Civil Rights, said Michigan’s rate is high compared with some other states because it has “a good network to identify these crimes.
“We have a better crime reporting system and data collection system, so we are able to see how numbers go up and down,” Brown said. “We encourage people in communities to report when things happen to them.”
According to Eric Lambert, a criminal justice professor from Wayne State University, reporting of hate crimes has increased because people are more willing to speak out.
“Our society is becoming more accepting of sexual orientation,” Lambert said. “It is become more mainstream to record hate crimes.”
He said the number for 2012 might be even higher because of the election year, which makes people more concerned about social issues.
“If people can’t quite understand why and how local governments do things in communities, they would possibly have more concern or emotional reactions,” he said.
According to the State Police’s Michigan Incident Crime Report, offenders’ biases are mostly based on race, sexual orientation and religion. The 2011 report said race-related attacks accounted for 64 percent of all victims and whites accounted for 56.7 percent of the offenders.
Religion-related attacks accounted for 12 percent of victims. Among them were 18 anti-Islamic and 21 anti-Jewish victims.
Lambert said, “Most hate crimes are committed by young people under 25 and those between the ages of 12 to 25 have the highest chance of being a victim.
“Hate crime is a serious society problem. You are engaging in a crime behavior not because you’re poor or disappointed but just to hurt somebody else. You cannot find any excuse for your anger,” Lambert said.
He said many states, including Michigan, have an enhanced penalty for those convicted of a hate-motivated crime, compared to penalties for those convicted of the same crime but with other motivations.
“These enhanced penalties generally require the offender to remain longer under government control, and often the judge will require additional treatment, such as counseling,” Lambert said.
The Civil Rights Department’s Brown said victims should report incidents to local law enforcement agencies and “should also reach out to associations that support victims who have been involved in hate crimes. Michigan Equality is one of the associations that victims can go for help in following up with police and getting in touch with lawyers and hospitals.
“Everyone has the right to live without being in fear, live freely without having any kind of crime against them,” Brown said. “Everyone needs to be educated about hate crime, especially young people.”
Wayne State’s Lambert said victims and society both suffer from hate crime.
“Americans have become much more diverse,” he said. “We have to understand other people’s culture and their value system.”