The FBI is launching a nationwide effort to enlist the help of local communities in its efforts to educate and combat hate crimes. Hate crimes are part of the Civil Rights Division of the FBI and are its highest priority. Rich Bauer is the Supervisory Special Agent for the Nashville area. He says it is important to identify and report these crimes because they are so damaging to communities. “People look to the FBI to lead these investigations because they deal with threats of violence,” he says, “A hate crime is anything that physically threatens someone and must be motivated by bias against protected classes.” The FBI defines a hate crime as a “criminal offense against a person or property motivated in whole or in part by an offender’s bias against a race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, ethnicity, gender, or gender identity.” Currently, Bauer says they are seeing an uptick in hate crimes against faith-based groups, Asian-Pacific Islanders and the Black community.
The current campaign is also focused on raising awareness of hate crimes that appear in social media. Sarabeth Myers is the Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Tennessee’s Civil Rights Division. She works closely with Bauer and his agents to prosecute hate crimes. “This state has a huge volume of hate crimes, and the challenge is how are we going to prove that extra layer of bias.” She says social media provides both the setting for hate crimes and evidence about them. Both Bauer and Myers say they rely on help from the partnerships with local community agencies to root out these crimes. Eric Stillman, CEO of The Jewish Federation and Jewish Foundation of Nashville and Middle Tennessee says, “The Jewish Federation and Jewish Foundation of Nashville and Middle Tennessee works with the FBI and the Justice Department, and we encourage members of our Jewish community to report hate crimes. It is essential that we have these partnerships for a safe and secure Jewish community in Nashville and Middle Tennessee.” Myers says she is pleased with how the local community comes together when incidents happen. Discussing last year’s defacement of the Tennessee Holocaust Memorial, she says, “These cases need to be publicized and people need to know what happens so we can help repair the community.”
Both Bauer and Myers say the COVID19 pandemic has served to ignite hate crimes. Myers says, “During this time, several social movements have sprung up and people had time to organize in a way we haven’t seen before. These movements can be very productive, but they can also be destructive.” Bauer says the best mechanism for reporting emergencies is still calling 9-1-1, but for those who want to report what they believe is a hate crime, the numbers to call are 800-CALL-FBI, or online at tips.fbi.gov. These reports can be done anonymously.