Rachel Glickhouse and Rahima Nasa of the invaluable ProPublica say that they were surprised when they discovered in crime statistics a category of ‘anti-heterosexual hate crimes’. But when they looked more closely, they found that this was not a thing at all and that the cases were actually anti-LGBTQ hate crimes but labeled wrongly.
Since 2010, Columbus police have reported six incidents that list bias against heterosexuals as the purported motivation. That’s more than any other local law enforcement agency in the nation reported during that period. Columbus Police Department Sgt. Dean Worthington acknowledges it’s likely that the officers who filed the reports marked the wrong box.
“Given the fact that our officers are human, we are prone to make the occasional mistake,” said Worthington. “I can assure you these mistakes were not intentional.”
Those reports made their way from Columbus to Washington, D.C., where they were compiled with thousands of others into what the FBI calls the Uniform Crime Report. Every year a small number of anti-heterosexual hate crime reports end up in the UCR. From 2010 to 2016, the FBI reported that local law enforcement agencies noted a total of 142 of them.
ProPublica reviewed dozens of these reports, however, and found few, if any, actual hate crimes targeting people for being heterosexual.
None described hate crimes spurred by anti-heterosexual bias. As with the case in Columbus, about half were actually anti-gay or anti-bisexual crimes that were miscategorized. Seven cases appeared to reflect other types of bias, with victims targeted because they were Jewish or black or women. Some 18 cases don’t seem to have been hate crimes at all, containing no discernible bias element.
The findings reflect a larger problem: Many local law enforcement agencies do a poor job tracking hate crimes. It’s a problem that can endanger public safety and leave policy makers blind when grappling with the growing problem of hate crimes and bias incidents in America.
In a few cases, victims were straight but were targeted by suspects who believed them to be gay. Even in cases of mistaken identity, the FBI instructs police to mark the perceived bias of the aggressor — in these cases, as anti-LGBTQ. In Columbus, Ohio, a straight man was called a “faggot” before he was assaulted. The report, however, indicated that the attack was motivated by anti-heterosexual bias. In Gainesville, Florida, a straight woman and her female roommate were targeted, police correctly marked it as an anti-lesbian hate crime on the incident report, but it was reflected in the FBI’s data as an anti-heterosexual incident. Officials weren’t sure why.
One of the most pernicious things is where a dominant majority community gets it into their heads that they are the persecuted ones (like the case in Sri Lanka) because their numbers gives them power to attack others with impunity.