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State creates task force on bias incidents among students and young adults to combat ‘rising tide of hate’ in New Jersey

Acting New Jersey Governor Sheila Oliver today issued an executive order establishing a task force to tackle the problem of bias incidents among students and young adults. The executive order follows the publication of a report today by Attorney General Gurbir Grewal about a “rising tide of hate” in the state.

“We are deeply disturbed by the upward trend of bias incidents happening nationwide, especially at our public colleges, and Governor Murphy and I are determined to do everything within our power as a state to stop them,” said Oliver. “The new Interagency Task Force to Combat Youth Bias is going to help us better understand the source of the problem so we can effectively target and educate the next generation about how to overcome hidden bias and treat each other with the dignity and respect we all deserve. Hate has no home in New Jersey.”

According to the report, the number of reported bias incidents in New Jersey in 2018 was 569 — up from 549 in 2017 and higher than any year since 2011. The report also documents a 32-percent increase in reported bias incidents from 2016 to 2017, the largest single-year percentage jump in more than a decade. The report notes that it is possible ”at least a portion” of the increase in New Jersey can be traced to more frequent reporting of those offenses to law enforcement.

More than a quarter of the reported bias incidents in 2018 occurred at colleges and universities, and nearly half of the identified offenders were minors. Over the past two years, a total of 284 reported bias incidents occurred on college and university campuses statewide.

Comparing the past two years, the report chronicles an increase in youth participation in bias offenses. In 2017, 29.6 percent of all known bias offenders in New Jersey were minors. But in 2018, the percentage of known bias offenders who were minors rose to more than 46 percent. 

There were 105 minors documented to be bias offenders in 2018 — a 67 percent increase from the 63 known underage bias offenders reported the prior year. The data for 2017 and 2018 shows that the majority of known bias offenders in New Jersey were white males, and that harassment, intimidation, vandalism, and destruction of property were the most common offenses.

According to the report, 54 percent of all reported bias incidents in New Jersey in 2018 were motivated by the victim’s race, ethnicity or ancestry. About 35 percent of reported bias incidents were motivated by the victim’s religion, and 10 percent were motivated by the victim’s sexual orientation, gender, or gender identity or expression. Less than 1 percent of the reported incidents were motivated by a victim’s mental or physical disability. Bias data for 2017 was nearly the same, with 52 percent of reported bias incidents motivated by race, ethnicity or ancestry, 38 percent motivated by religion, and 10 percent motivated by sexual orientation, gender, gender identity or expression.

Consistent with a trend that has prevailed throughout the past 13 years, about 72 percent of all reported racially motivated bias incidents in New Jersey in 2017 and 2018 were aimed at African-Americans. Hispanics were the group most frequently targeted for ethnicity related bias offenses in 2017 and 2018, and anti-Jewish offenses formed the bulk of reported bias incidents driven by religious prejudice in the past two years, including a combined total of 152 reported swastika incidents.

The report characterizes New Jersey’s experience with bias incidents as “consistent with nationwide trends” identified in the latest FBI statistics. FBI statistics show that race, ethnicity and ancestry drive nearly 60 percent of bias offenses in the U.S., followed by religion (20.6 percent) and sexual orientation (15.8 percent.) 

The report was developed by the New Jersey State Police and Division on Civil Rights. Although past reports have presented a numerical analysis of reported bias incidents in New Jersey, officials said this is the first report to include a discussion from the Division on Civil Rights of how New Jersey’s numbers compare to national trends, the potential causes of trends in the data, and steps that can be taken to reduce the number of bias incidents. Officials said the report has taken on added relevancy following recent mass shootings that appear to have been motivated by the shooters’ hate for particular ethnic or religious groups

The data contained in the report is based on bias incident reports submitted to the New Jersey Uniform Crime Reporting System during 2017 and 2018 by every law enforcement agency in the state, including college campus police departments.

“The research and analysis of bias incidents conducted by the New Jersey State Police reveal a notable increase in harassment and violent acts committed upon people living in and studying in the State by intolerant and ignorant offenders,” said Colonel Patrick Callahan of the New Jersey State Police. “The State Police will continue to commit all available resources to uncover trends and patterns in bias crimes and work with our partner agencies to curb these abhorrent and hateful acts and bring those responsible to justice.”

The task force will provide advice and recommendations to the offices of the governor and the attorney general on strategies and actions to reduce incidents of hate, bias, and intolerance involving students and young adults. The task force will include representatives from eight state agencies and be chaired by New Jersey Division on Civil Rights Director Rachel Wainer Apter.

“The 2017-2018 bias report could not come at a more critical time. Hate and persistent othering are one of the greatest challenges we face as a country and a state,” said Apter. “The purpose of this report is to analyze bias incident data 2017 and 2018, discuss some of the possible causes of the rise in reported bias incidents, and to help inform the path forward. And the Interagency Task Force is a vital part of that path to addressing hate, bias, and prejudice among students and young people.”

New Jersey law defines the crime of bias intimidation as an offense committed to intimidate, or with knowledge that such an action would intimidate, an individual or group of individuals because of the person’s perceived or actual race, color, ethnicity, national origin, religion, sexual orientation, disability, gender, gender identity or gender expression. Bias offenses can include harassment, assault, terroristic threats, arson, criminal mischief and homicide.

“Bias incidents target individuals because of what they look like, how they worship, or who they love,” Grewal said. “They jeopardize our pursuit of freedom and opportunity. They erode, undermine, and attack the identity and heritage of our citizens. They dehumanize people. And they shake the foundations of our cultural and religious institutions. They have no place here in New Jersey. And today we are taking action to end them by focusing on our young people.”

The report notes that scholars and other experts have suggested the increase in reported bias incidents can be attributed to social media, a national proliferation of divisive political rhetoric, and an increase in the number of hate groups.

The objectives of the Youth Bias Task Force will include:

  • Studying the root causes of hate, bias, and intolerance in New Jersey’s schools and universities and among New Jersey’s students and young adults;
  • Examining and evaluating existing programs and strategies that are administered by executive departments and agencies to address hate, bias, and intolerance in schools and among New Jersey’s students and young adults;
  • Reviewing existing law and applicable procedures related to bias in schools and among New Jersey’s students and young adults;
  • Reviewing existing programs, curricula, and strategies that aim to address hate, bias, and intolerance among students and young adults and in schools by creating connections and breaking stereotypes;
  • Recommending any necessary changes to existing programs and strategies that are administered by executive departments and agencies and existing law and procedures; and
  • Recommending how executive departments, agencies, and schools should act to reduce hate, bias, and intolerance in schools and among New Jersey’s students and young adults.

The agencies represented on the Task Force will include the Department of Education, the Department of Children and Families, the Office of the Secretary of Higher Education, and five agencies within the Department of Law & Public Safety:  the Division on Civil Rights, the New Jersey State Police, the Division of Criminal Justice, the Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness, and the Juvenile Justice Commission. The task force will issue a report outlining its findings and recommendations to the governor and attorney general within six months. Officials said the report will also be made available to the public at the same time.