There were 212 hate crimes reported in Colorado last year, more than half of which were predicated upon race, ancestry and ethnicity.
This represented a dramatic increase from 2018, when law enforcement reported 128 such incidents. The 2019 data released this week by the Federal Bureau of Investigation indicated that 40% of reported hate crimes happened in Denver. District Attorney Beth McCann said she was concerned about the rising numbers in her jurisdiction.
“Crimes of hate and racism undermine the security and health of our community,” she said in a statement. “We will continue to prosecute these cases as aggressively as we did in the case of Ryan Lee, who is currently serving a five-year sentence for a hate-based assault in Denver.”
Lee received a conviction last year for a 2018 assault against two Hispanic men, during which he wielded a hammer and shouted racial slurs.
In November of last year, representatives from faith and anti-hate groups estimated that between 65% and 90% of hate crime victims do not report the incident. A resource guide from the Mountain States Anti-Defamation League emphasized the need to involve law enforcement.
“The Denver Police Department has a dedicated unit which solely investigates bias-motivated crimes,” the department said in a statement. “In addition to those within the unit who work with residents affected by hate crimes, DPD has patrol officers make contact with victims to connect them with services and resources, while ensuring that DPD is there for them. Also, our officers continually contact members in these communities in a proactive and positive manner.”
In 2019, 117 of the 212 incidents were racially or ethnically motivated. Approximately 17% were related to religion and 22% were based on sexual orientation. Behind Denver, Colorado Springs had the second-highest number of incidents, at 12. That was the same number of hate crimes reported in total at colleges and universities, with the University of Colorado’s Boulder campus comprising seven of those.
Attorney General Phil Weiser indicated his office is working on a training module for law enforcement agencies about bias-motivated crimes, but that the pandemic made communication more difficult.
“I do know we have worked with the Denver police and Denver has a lot of awareness about hate crimes,” he said. “I don’t know that it means per capita Denver’s actually experiencing more hate crimes than other jurisdictions, as opposed to its position to recognize them and classify them as such.”
Nationwide in 2019, the FBI catalogued 8,552 victims of hate crimes based on reports from 15,588 law enforcement agencies. Similarly to Colorado, 58% pertained to race. Just over half of known offenders were white, and the largest percentage of crimes occurred in or near residences.
Bias-motivated crimes, as defined in Colorado law, include causing bodily injury, placing fear in another or destroying property, with an intent to intimidate or harass someone based on certain characteristics.
Nearly 80% of hate crimes were categorized as either intimidation or simple assault. There were 51 murders and 30 rapes reported as hate crimes. In Colorado, bias-motivated crimes vary in classification from a misdemeanor to a class 4 felony.
Jason R. Dunn, the U.S. Attorney for Colorado, pointed to the Protecting Places of Worship program and a new effort to bring community and law enforcement leaders together as examples of the U.S. Department of Justice's approach to combatting hate crimes. Dunn also said the department has given funding to the Colorado Resilience Collaborative at the University of Denver, which seeks to understand how hate groups target and recruit members, and to provide counseling.
"Of late we've seen an increase in white supremacist activity that we've been investigating with our federal partners, FBI as well as locally," he said. However, "the data is only as good as the input. For example, Denver at 40 [race-motivated crimes] and Aurora at two strikes me as odd, particularly as Aurora has a significant minority population."
One hundred ten localities reported no hate crimes last year to the Hate Crime Statistics Program, ranging from Lakeside, with a population of eight, to Lakewood, with a population of nearly 159,000. Two other cities with populations over 100,000, Greeley and Arvada, similarly indicated no incidents. In addition, there were no reported hate crimes in unincorporated Arapahoe, Boulder, Pueblo or El Paso counties, among other less populated jurisdictions.
Weiser acknowledged that underreporting of hate crimes is a problem, and that people should take hateful rhetoric seriously and alert others about threats.
“On social media platforms, that has gone to extents we never would have thought before,” he said. “Hate groups and individuals who are motivated by hate are finding more support and encouragement online.”
The attorney general indicated that it would be hard to estimate what bias-motivated crime statistics might look like for 2020, given the competing trends of a presidential election and racial justice protests, but also the COVID-19 pandemic forcing more individuals to stay at home.
U.S. Rep. Joe Neguse, the son of African immigrants, said that the rise in crime "only underscore what has been readily apparent — that our country is in deep need of healing, unity and peace. As a member of the House Judiciary Committee, I’ve worked closely with my colleagues to address these issues legislatively where we can," including through the Disarm Hate Act, which addresses firearm possession by those convicted of hate crimes.