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Hate crime tally in Florida shows 27% more reports

Published Sep. 29, 2005

Pinellas reported 25, second only to Palm Beach County. Pinellas reported just one more in '98 than in '97.

Stars of David with swastikas spray-painted in red on roadways and the wall of a weekly newspaper in Citrus County's Beverly Hills. Crosses burned at the home of a North Florida black family. The fatal beating of a gay man on a West Palm Beach street. The beating and robbing of a Jewish store owner by neo-Nazi gang in Hollywood.

These were some of the 203 hate crimes reported in 24 counties across Florida last year, an increase of 27 percent from the 160 hate crimes reported in 1997.

Pinellas County, which reported 25 hate crimes, was second only to Palm Beach County, which reported 32 hate crimes last year. Pinellas reported just one more hate crime last year than in 1997.

The Florida director of the Anti-Defamation League called hate crimes "a cancer in American society."

"Hate crimes by their nature challenge the very notion of living harmoniously in multicultural communities," Art Teitelbaum said from Miami.

The annual hate crime report, issued Thursday by Attorney General Bob Butterworth, included two murders _ one linked to racial hatred and the other to prejudice based on the victim's sexual orientation.

The report, which noted "no single factor appears to explain the increase," said a greater number of reporting law enforcement agencies may have contributed to the higher figures. Sixty-three agencies reported hate crimes last year;47 reported the crimes in 1997.

Vandalism was the most common hate crime reported last year, followed by assault and intimidation. As in past years, race remains the primary motivation, accounting for 63 percent of hate crimes.

The number of reported hate crimes don't reflect the true level of violent bigotry in Florida, according to Teitelbaum and T.H. Poole of Eustis, a former Florida president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People who is now an executive assistant to the president.

Both men say police in some areas want to avoid the stigma that goes with hate crimes.

"They hate that tag," Poole said. Teitelbaum called it the "chamber of commerce effect."

Poole also said NAACP members have encountered resistance in reporting hate crimes.

"In our work, when we try to report anything as hate crime, they turn up both fists and start defending," he said.

However, both Poole and Teitelbaum said some police agencies are doing a better job of reporting hate crimes.

A hate crime is one motivated by hatred based on race, color, religion, ethnicity, ancestry, national origin, sexual orientation, disability or advanced age. If a defendant is convicted of a hate crime, the underlying crime is treated more seriously: A second-degree misdemeanor is treated as a first-degree misdemeanor; a first-degree misdemeanor is treated as a third-degree felony, and so on. Victims can sue their attackers and win triple damages.

_ Times staff writer Robin Mitchell contributed to this report.

The 24 counties

reporting hate crimes

Alachua, 8; Brevard, 4; Broward, 23; Citrus, 2; Clay, 2; Collier, 1; Miami-Dade, 10; Duval, 7; Escambia, 5; Flagler, 3; Hernando, 1; Hillsborough, 13; Lake, 9; Leon, 1; Marion, 11; Monroe, 8; Orange, 21; Osceola, 1; Palm Beach, 32; Pinellas, 25; Putnam, 1; Santa Rosa, 6; Seminole, 2; Volusia, 7.

_ Florida Attorney General's Office

A breakdown

of area reports

Citrus: Sheriff's Office, two incidents of vandalism with religious overtones.

Hernando: Sheriff's Office, an incident of religious intimidation.

Hillsborough: Sheriff's Office, a robbery, two aggravated assaults and a vandalism with racial overtones; Tampa police, a robbery, two aggravated assaults and three simple assaults with racial overtones; Temple Terrace Police, three simple assaults with racial overtones.

Pinellas: Sheriff's Office, two aggravated assaults with racial overtones, two relating to sexual orientation, a simple assault related to race and two related to ethnicity or national origin, two incidents of racial intimidation, one vandalism related to national origin; Clearwater police, a simple assault related to religion and a burglary with racial overtones; St. Petersburg police, a robbery, nine aggravated assaults and a simple assault with racial overtones, a simple assault relating to sexual orientation; Tarpon Springs police, an incident of intimidation relating to sexual orientation.