Fairfax County does not appear to be immune from a nationwide trend of increases in reported hate crimes and incidents, based on statistics released by the Fairfax County Police Department on Tuesday.
County police have documented 77 crimes and incidents motivated by racism, anti-Semitism, homophobia, and other kinds of bias in 2018 so far.
With one month remaining in the year, Fairfax County seems to be on pace to end 2018 roughly in line with 2017, which saw 87 hate crimes and incidents, a two-thirds increase from 2016.
“[It’s] a grave concern, because each one of these, someone’s been violated,” Fairfax County Police Chief Edwin Roessler Jr. said after presenting the data to the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors during its Nov. 27 public safety committee meeting. “Whether it’s a hate crime or just an incident of free speech where someone was offended, we can’t tolerate that.”
The FCPD recorded 29 anti-black hate crimes and incidents in 2018 so far, along with four anti-Jewish and two anti-Muslim acts. 12 acts targeted individuals on the basis of their sexual orientation.
There have also been 12 hate crimes and incidents motivated by bias against multiple or other ethnicities and religions, and 25 such acts against other groups, such as people with disabilities.
While the FCPD presentation on Tuesday highlighted anti-black, anti-Jewish, anti-Muslim, and anti-lesbian and gay acts in particular, the department will later publish an annual report on bias crimes and incidents with a more comprehensive breakdown, according to Fairfax County Police Capt. Gregory Fried.
The FCPD defines hate or bias crimes as unlawful acts in which a person was targeted because of their race, religion, ethnicity or national origin, disability, or sexual orientation.
Fairfax County police also track bias incidents, a category that encompasses behavior that may be offensive or discriminatory but does not constitute a crime. Such behaviors can include the distribution of literature, hate speech, and drunk or disorderly conduct.
According to FCPD General Order 520.7, bias incidents can become criminal if they directly incite perpetrators to commit acts of violence against people or destruction of property.
Fairfax County police have recorded 28 hate crimes in 2018, including 17 assaults and 11 acts of property destruction or vandalism.
That marks a drop from 38 hate crimes recorded in 2017, but the 49 bias incidents documented so far in 2018, including 17 instances of disorderly conduct, 13 suspicious persons or events, seven police service calls, and 12 other offenses, matches last year’s total.
While the higher rates of reported hate crimes and incidents in 2017 and 2018 compared to previous years in Fairfax County, police officials cautioned against assuming that such offenses have necessarily become a more common occurrence.
Fried says the FCPD has been working more closely with faith communities, civic organizations, homeowner’s associations, and other partners to encourage people to report any hate speech, harassment, or other incidents they experience, even if it may not rise to the level of a crime.
“We have made remarkable efforts in some of our communities that don’t normally report to the police,” Fried said. “…We are encouraging that information to be reported to us, and we believe that is a contributing factor to some of the increases we are seeing.”
According to Hurunnessa Fariad, the outreach, interfaith, and media coordinator for the All Dulles Area Muslim Society Center, the Northern Virginia mosque has seen both leaders and the general congregation engage more consistently with local law enforcement in the past few years.
Worshippers are no longer alarmed to see police when they arrive at the ADAMS Center, which has branches in Sterling, Fairfax, Chantilly, Ashburn, and Gainesville. As they become more accustomed to the officers’ presence, visitors have started to see them as community members instead of regarding them with automatic suspicion, Fariad says.
At the same time, many of the area’s Muslim community members, especially immigrants, are not aware that they can report slurs, public harassment, and other discriminatory behaviors.
“What we’re trying to do is educate our community that if anyone says anything to you, calls you names, harasses you on the street, take the time frame, locate where it was, [and] we’ll help you call the officials and let them know that this occurred,” Faraid said. “…It’s a lot of work that we have to do as community members in getting the message across…that you have to report these things.”
Roessler admits that a lack of trust and confidence in law enforcement has often been the biggest challenge to convincing people to report hate crimes and incidents, but he says his department is working to collaborate with community advocates in order to break down that barrier.
The Fairfax County police chief added that, while improved reporting from community members might be a factor in the higher numbers of incidents recorded by the FCPD, he does not want to give the impression that this trend should be seen as positive.
“I hate to use the measure…that this increase [in reports] is showing an increase in trust and confidence, and here’s more crime,” Roessler said. “We’ve got to get zeroes.”
Data for Fairfax County reflects a similar uptick in reported hate crimes around the country.
In its latest compilation of nationwide data on bias-motivated crimes, the FBI found 7,175 hate crime incidents involving 8,437 offenses in 2017, an increase of more than 1,000 incidents over 2016, which was already a jump up from 5,850 incidents in 2015.
Though it may give a general idea of what is happening around the country, the data collected by the FBI through its uniform crime reporting program does not paint a complete picture.
16,149 law enforcement agencies participated in the FBI’s hate crime statistics program in 2017, but only 2,040 agencies reported incidents.
Fried says the federal agency is working to improve its crime reporting by transitioning to the National Incident-Based Reporting System already used by Fairfax County, which reports hate crime data to both the FBI and the Virginia State Police.
While law enforcement can document hate crimes and hold perpetrators responsible, preventing such acts from happening in the first place is an even more daunting task.
Braddock District Supervisor John Cook, who chairs the Board of Supervisors’ public safety committee, requested that the FCPD give the board a report on hate crime in Fairfax County after someone defaced the Jewish Community Center of Northern Virginia in Annandale with spray-painted swastikas on Oct. 6.
County police are conducting an ongoing investigation into the incident, which marked the second time in two years that the organization had been targeted.
The JCC was previously vandalized with graffiti in April 2017 along with the nearby Little River United Church of Christ. Police arrested Annandale resident Dylan Mahone on Apr. 12, 2017 in connection with those two incidents and a third act involving anti-Semitic flyers posted around Northern Virginia Community College’s campus.
Mahone was charged with multiple hate-related offenses, including felony destruction of property, placing a swastika on religious property with the intent to intimidate, and wearing a mask in public to conceal his identity.
He remains in detention and is currently awaiting sentencing, according to JCC of Northern Virginia executive director Jeff Dannick.
Dannick says the vandalism that the JCC has experienced is upsetting on its own, but the Oct. 6 incident was compounded two weeks later when a shooter killed 11 people at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pa., on Oct. 27.
“It’s nice to hear that hate has no place and we won’t tolerate that,” Dannick said. “That’s the only response we can have, but how we address that and how we battle that together as a community, I think, is what’s going to distinguish us.”