FBI might count Pulse massacre as one hate crime

FBI might count Pulse massacre as one hate crime

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If authorities decide that Omar Mateen acted with anti-LGBT animus when he opened fire at Pulse nightclub in Orlando, the FBI will count his shooting spree as a single hate crime, an agency spokesperson said this week.

“[T]he FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting program will not report the Orlando massacre as 102 separate hate crimes if it is determined the offender was motivated in whole or in part by anti-LGBT animus,” said FBI spokesperson Stephen G. Fischer Jr.

In an email, Fischer said the agency’s crime-reporting system is incident-based, and mass shootings during a hate incident are reported as a single hate crime, with multiple “offenses.”

In recent years, the FBI has reported about 6,000 hate crimes annually. But independent surveys indicate the actual number is closer to 260,000. Alleged underreporting of hate crimes has been attributed to lack of training, lack of cooperation by some law-enforcement agencies and reluctance of victims to contact police.

Palma M. Rasmussen, an advocate for the LGBT community, said every person shot by Mateen represents a hate crime, and should be counted as such by the FBI.

“Mateen killed 49 people and wounded 53 others at Pulse, for a total of 102 hate crimes,” Rasmussen told PGN. “I think it would be very reasonable for the FBI to record this massacre as 102 hate crimes. It’s about respecting the severity of this horrendous event. And if that respect gives some solace to the grieving families, all the better.”

Rasmussen, who lives near Orlando, said her son patronized Pulse as a straight ally. She said if some straight people were killed or wounded by Mateen, they’re also victims of hate crimes, because Mateen perceived them to be LGBT.

“The offense Mateen committed on each and every person he shot at Pulse should be considered a hate crime in its own right,” she said.

“It doesn’t matter to me if Mateen was gay,” Rasmussen added. “If that’s the case, one might speculate that Mateen did what he did because he was conflicted with his religious beliefs and he felt he had to eradicate his sexual orientation and the sexual orientation of others.”

New Garden, Pa., police Chief Gerald R. Simpson Jr. said it’s important for the FBI to accurately report hate crimes. He said an anti-LGBT hate crime occurred in New Garden in 2015 in which an unknown person or persons painted “Get Out Fags!” on the garage doors of an LGBT household. The incident was reported to the FBI as a single hate crime.

Counting the Pulse mass shootings as a single hate crime with multiple offenses may fail to illustrate the enormity of the event, Simpson noted.

“In my opinion, counting the mass shootings in Orlando as one hate crime wouldn’t capture the volume of the tragedy,” Simpson said. “It wouldn’t fully capture the tragic events that occurred there. I understand there’s an FBI reporting system in place that’s been around for some time. Maybe it worked back in the day, when there weren’t so many mass shootings. But it may be time for a change.”

Simpson said he’s willing to participate in a dialogue with other law-enforcement officials to consider the possibility of revising the way hate crimes are counted and reported to the public.

“I’m all for opening up a discussion on the subject,” he said. “It’s really up to the FBI to take the lead on this. It’s their [reporting] system. But I do think it’s worth considering whether there’s a better way to fully capture the totality of events such as occurred in Orlando. “

Fischer, the FBI spokesperson, said efforts are underway to implement a new reporting system nationwide by 2021. But he said the improved system will be incident-based, thus counting hate crimes in a similar manner.

“Ultimately, the [2021 system] will improve the detail and overall quality of crime data, which will help law enforcement and communities around the country use resources more strategically and effectively,” Fischer said. “It will provide more useful statistics that will promote constructive discussion, measured planning and informed policing.” 

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