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Sunday, July 24, 2005

Breaking Down Hate Crime - New York Times

Breaking Down Hate Crime - New York TimesJuly 23, 2005
Breaking Down Hate Crime
When a group of white men attacked three black men on the streets of Howard Beach, Queens, last month, severely beating one with a baseball bat, it was the 125th hate crime in New York this year, according to records collected by the Police Department.

The attack echoed an assault from nearly 20 years earlier when another group of white men armed with bats chased three black men through the same neighborhood, causing the death of one victim, who ran in front of a car while trying to escape.

In one notable difference, two suspects in the latest attack have been charged with first-degree assault as a hate crime — a provision that did not exist in New York until the Hate Crimes Act of 2000. That law, for the first time, allowed harsher sentences for criminals who single out victims because of personal traits like sexual orientation, race or religion. As a result, these suspects, if convicted, would face a minimum penalty of eight years in prison — compared with a five-year minimum for regular assault.

Since 2000, the city’s 23-member Hate Crimes Task Force has investigated nearly 2,000 crimes and determined that 95 percent of them were motivated by hate, including 20 percent that involved physical attacks.

But, like all crime, hate crimes have decreased, dropping 44 percent from 2000 through 2004, with physical attacks decreasing by nearly half.

Deputy Inspector Michael Osgood of the Hate Crimes Task Force attributed the trend to several factors: The Hate Crimes Act, which he said put people on notice; the existence of the task force, which has operated since 1980; and the resolution of high-profile hate crimes, including the first Howard Beach attacks; the 1989 shooting death of a black teenager in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn; and the 1991 stabbing death of a Hasidic Jew in Crown Heights, Brooklyn.

“There’s been a modification of human behavior in New York over the last 10 or 12 years,” Inspector Osgood said. “People are just behaving better in the city.”

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