1 year later: News 12 investigates the rise in hate crimes across New Jersey
One year ago, Kane In Your Corner reported on the rise in hate crimes across New Jersey and investigated how the system falls short on justice for the victims. Now, News 12 is checking back to see if anything is being done to correct the issues and how bias crimes have transformed in the past year
A shooting at a Jewish grocery store in Jersey City this past December is officially the worst hate crime incident since New Jersey started keeping track. Two attackers killed a Jersey City police officer before storming the Kosher shop, killing several more people.
Police say that the shooters were motivated by hatred for law enforcement and anti-Semitism.
Mindy Grinfield was one of the victims. Her bother Joel says that he is still coming to grips with the senseless violence.
“I never even thought about personal hatred on the shooter. I don’t know the guy and he’s dead. I know he doesn’t want me to forgive him,” Joel Grinfield says.
While the Jersey City shooting may be the worst – it is far from the only one. From terroristic threats to people assaulted because of their race or ethnicity, New Jersey is dealing with an increase of bias crimes.
Bias incidents skyrocketed last year from 569 incidents in 2018 to 944 in 2019 – an increase of 65%. And this year has brought on another disturbing trend. As the United States deals with the COVID-19 pandemic, civil rights groups have documented a rise in bias incidents against Asian Americans.
“We’ve got 2,800 incidents and counting since the beginning of the COVID pandemic,” says Roland Hwang of the OCA Civil Rights Fellowship.
A Chinese woman was attacked by a group of teens at a strip mall in Edison. Anti-Asian graffiti was found scrawled on a restaurant in Wyckoff.
“I’ve heard from Asian American parents…fearful about going back to school and being taunted,” Hwang says. “About 75% of the Chinese American parents have witnessed racial discrimination or taunting during this pandemic period. So, it’s really a problem."
But even when bias incidents are reported, Kane In Your Corner found they are rarely prosecuted.
Keith Brown says that he was attacked aboard a New Jersey train because of his faith.
“He turned around and popped me one right in the mouth…He said, ‘You, with that thing on your head. Why don’t you go back to your country?’” Brown says.
Brown's case isn't unusual. Kane In Your Corner tracked every incident of hate in New Jersey since 2016 and found suspects were only arrested under the bias statutes about 10% of the time and were only prosecuted for bias intimidation about 1% of the time. In case after case, there were plea bargains; the more serious charge, bias intimidation, was dropped and the suspect pleaded guilty to something less.
“I think this is one of the biggest challenges facing our criminal justice,” says state Assemblyman Nicholas Chiavraralotti, who represents Jersey City. “When you look at the victims of bias crime, that prevents them in many ways from having their day in court.”
Greg Zeff is an attorney with the NAACP. He says that plea bargains have their place, but that New Jersey is missing out on an opportunity to prevent future hate crimes.
“That’s a good deal for the defendant. It’s not a great day for society,” he says. “Why shouldn't we have some type of program in place so that the prosecutors, so that the judges can say, ‘You know what, you pled to a lesser crime, but I think you need you go through a course. You need to understand what you did to your community.’”
Chiavraralotti says that this could be a good option.
“I don’t think that’s out of the realm of possibility. I think education is the key,” he says.
But Joel Grinfield says that he does not think that tolerance can be taught in a classroom. He says that people need to be taught to love or hate at home.