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.”

Key findings

  • In 2018, 569 bias incidents were reported in New Jersey, according to the report, more than any year since 2011. The analyzed data were based on reports submitted to the New Jersey Uniform Crime Reporting system by every state law enforcement agency in 2017 and 2018.
  • More than a quarter of the reported bias incidents in 2018 occurred at institutions of higher education, and nearly half of the identified offenders were minors.
  • Nearly 300 reported incidents occurred on a college or university campus in 2017 and 2018, the report said. In 2018, State Police added a new category of data that measured incidents at elementary and secondary schools — there were 32 that year.
  • The detailed data analysis showed reported incidents dropped by more than half between 2010 and 2015, but began to climb in 2016, with a 14% increase. In 2017, 52% of incidents reported were motivated by the victim’s race, ethnicity, or ancestry; 38% were motivated by the victim’s religion. In every year from 2006 to 2018, African Americans were the most frequent targets of racially motivated bias incidents.
  • New Jersey trends are consistent with nationwide trends, the report said. National data showed that common motivations for bias incidents were similar to those in New Jersey, including race, ethnicity, ancestry, religion, and sexual orientation.
  • Potential causes in the rise of reported incidents highlighted by experts include social media, political rhetoric, and the rise in the number of hate groups, according to the report.

Summary

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.”

Next steps

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.