Following the Wednesday release of a state report that showed a spike in reported bias incidents in New Jersey, acting Gov. Sheila Oliver announced a task force to address such occurrences among students and young adults.
The “Interagency Task Force to Combat Youth Bias,” chaired by the Division on Civil Rights director Rachel Wainer Apter, will provide recommendations to state agencies, and the Offices of the Governor and the Attorney General, on strategies to reduce incidents of bias and hate involving youth.
The task force “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, ... " said Oliver, the lieutenant governor who is overseeing the state government while Gov. Phil Murphy travels overseas. “Hate has no home in New Jersey."
In a teleconference, Attorney General Gurbir Grewal said, “The report shows not only an increase … but also shows striking trends when it comes to bias among our young people.”
Bias incidents “erode, undermine, and attack the identity and heritage of our citizens, they dehumanize people, and they shake the foundations of our cultural education and religious institutions,” Grewal said. “They have no place here in New Jersey.”
The report comes amid additional efforts to curb bias incidents. In April, Grewal issued new guidelines for law enforcement when investigating and reporting bias incidents. The new required standards included a “victim- and community-centered approach,” continued training for law enforcement, and electronic reporting of bias incidents. The prior standards were last updated in 2000.
Developed by the New Jersey State Police and Division on Civil Rights, the report is the first to include a comparison by the Division on Civil Rights of how New Jersey fares among national trends, the potential causes of data trends, and steps to reduce the number of incidents.
The actual number of incidents is likely much higher, the report says, since it fails to capture incidents that were never reported to local law enforcement. More than half of hate-crime victims nationwide from 2011 to 2015 did not report the crimes to the police, according to the U.S. Department of Justice Bureau of Justice Statistics.
For the first time, the report included contextual analysis from the Division on Civil Rights for the statistics, Grewal said.
“We can’t say with absolute certainty whether the increase in reported incidents reflects an increase in the number of incidents, or an increase in reporting, or both," he said. "As a state, over the last 18 months we’ve dedicated ourselves to letting the public know that they can trust New Jersey law enforcement, that reports of bias will not go unheard or unanswered.”
The interagency task force will have six months to complete an investigation, including meeting with public stakeholders, and report back to the governor strategies to reduce hate and bias incidents among young people.
The report said moving forward, police, county prosecutors, and the Attorney General’s Office must vigorously investigate bias crimes by adhering to the recently announced Bias Incident Investigation Standards.