Uptick in hate crimes seen in DC, Montgomery Co.

WASHINGTON — In the politically charged atmosphere of 2016, hate crimes are getting increasing attention and seem to be happening more frequently. A breakdown of the numbers in D.C. and Maryland’s largest counties show, in fact, there is an uptick in crimes motivated by hate.

So far this year in the nation’s capital, there have been 70 hate-based crimes, a 6 percent increase from the year before.

“I’m not sure the uptick in reporting is a sign of a significant problem. Whenever you have hate crimes, of course it’s a problem. It could be the fact that those in the community are sensitive to it,” said Interim D.C. Police Chief Peter Newsham in an interview with WTOP.

If D.C. police officers are able to prove hate was a motive in the crime, it enhances the charges against a suspect.

At community meetings, Newsham said he has heard from residents concerned about the instance of hate crimes and for their safety.

“We’ve reached out to let them know that Washington, D.C., didn’t change after the election … We will be inclusive. We will not tolerate hate in our city, and I think that reassures people,” he said.

D.C. statistics show the biggest annual increase was in religiously motivated hate crimes. There have been 11 in 2016 — more than double that of the previous year.

Hate crimes at Montgomery County Schools ‘simply wrong’

A spike in religious hate crimes is something Montgomery County Public School leaders are grappling with, too. The school system confirms at least seven anti-Semitic incidents in recent months.

Last month, Sligo Creek Elementary School sent a letter home to parents confirming that a group of third-graders had discovered racist graffiti in a school bathroom last week. Also in November, a swastika was discovered on a bathroom wall at Westland Middle School in Bethesda.

Vandalism of school property violates school policy and the law and is “simply wrong,” Superintendent Jack Smith said in video he released last month.

“These are deeply disturbing incidents. Vandalism is illegal. This type of horrible vandalism is illegal.,” Smith said in the video.

Outside the schools, hate crimes are a concern, and the chief of police is calling on them to stop.

“Each one of these cases represents a victim and community that has been harmed,” Tom Manger, Montgomery County police chief, said in a Twitter video last month.

Montgomery County police report there have been 77 hate-based crimes so far this year; 32 of them motivated by religion. Police and the school system are working together to identify suspects in the hate crimes identified on school grounds.

Around the country, religion-based hate crimes are on the rise, too. Recently released FBI statistics show that the number of hate crimes targeting Muslims that were reported to law enforcement rose by 67 percent in 2015, to the largest number since the year of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.

Overall hate crimes nationwide rose by 6 percent last year. Many hate crimes go unreported.

Megan Cloherty

WTOP Investigative Reporter Megan Cloherty primarily covers breaking news, crime and courts.

Follow @WTOP on Twitter and like us on Facebook.

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