Lawyer says problems exist with collecting data

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SHIPROCK — The legal standard of a hate crime was examined and information about the offense was presented in a seminar organized here on Friday by the Office of Navajo Nation Human Rights Commission.

Brandy Haynes is an attorney and legal fellow with the Stop Hate Project under the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, a nonprofit organization that serves as a resource to community groups and provides legal research and assistance.

Haynes defined a hate crime as a criminal offense against a person or property motivated in whole or in part by an offender's bias due to a victim's race, color, religion, disability, sexual orientation, national origin, gender and gender identity.

The perpetrator's prejudicial motive, or bias, is what distinguishes a hate crime from other illegal activities.

A hate crime also can be viewed as a "message crime," meaning it sends a message to members of certain groups, telling them that they are unwanted in communities, she said.

During Haynes' presentation, she talked about federal agencies that collect data about hate crimes, including the U.S. Department of Justice and FBI's Uniform Crime Reports and the National Crime Victimization Survey, administered by the Bureau of Justice Statistics.

"New Mexico hate crime law is actually pretty good," Haynes said adding the state requires law enforcement agencies to report crimes motivated by hate to the FBI.

State law also requires training for law enforcement personnel, she said.

But she said problems with collecting data do exist, including under reporting because victims sometimes doubt law enforcement officials will help them, or they are afraid to reveal information because they are a member of a vulnerable group.

Immigrants may not report hate crimes due to cultural barriers or out of fear of reaction from perpetrators.

The benefit of collecting accurate crime data is that it can help in changing and developing laws, Haynes said.

The seminar also highlighted the Vincent Kee trial, the first case pursued under the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, according to representatives from the Native American Disability Law Center.

The perpetrators — Paul Beebe, Jesse Sanford and William Hatch — were charged with and convicted of branding Kee, a mentally disabled Navajo man, with a swastika symbol, as well as shaving the back of his head with the symbol and using markers to deface his body with obscenities in April 2010 in Farmington, according to the center.

Steve Tarnowski, a staff attorney with the center, said the federal law was applied because of Kee's race and disability.

Among those attending the seminar was Francine Bradley-Arthur, who wanted to learn about the types of crime occurring on and near the Navajo Nation. Bradley-Arthur is retired after 20 years in law enforcement and now teaches criminal justice at Navajo Technical University in Crownpoint.

She said the information she heard Friday caused her to think about incidents she investigated on the reservation and how many could have been classified as hate crimes if the federal law had existed during her service.

Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636 or by email at nsmith@daily-times.com.

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