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Chico cops report zero hate crimes in 2018Anecdotal reports tell another story
by Leslie Layton
Zero. That’s the number of hate crimes that took place in Chico in 2018, according to reports to the FBI from the Chico Police Department and Chico State’s University Police Department.
That zero doesn’t reflect what happened to an African American man, who has said he was pelted with beer cans last year by several white people in a pickup truck who were using the N-word. He never reported the incident to police, but his girlfriend saw the bruises.
The zero also doesn’t reflect other unreported incidents, and it doesn’t reflect incidents that may have been driven by hate that didn’t surface in a police report or court hearing. And it certainly doesn’t reflect overt and subtle offenses that left people who were subjected to them feeling hurt and scared.
Hate crime statistics provided by local law enforcement agencies, for several reasons, don’t mirror the violence and bias that members of Butte County’s minority communities face. In dozens of interviews during the past three years — as a media partner in the nationwide “Documenting Hate” project — college students and community members have described an increasingly hostile social climate.
Chico police (CPD) reported to the FBI that there were four hate crimes in its jurisdiction during the three preceding years, 2016-2018. But police departments vary greatly in how they track hate crime, and the CPD figure is much lower than the figures provided by police departments in Redding and Davis, cities that are different demographically, but share commonalities, too.
In Redding, a city 70 miles to the north with a smaller, generally more conservative population, the police department reported 34 hate crimes during the 2016-2018 period. The police department in Davis, a liberal university town 98 miles to the south with a much smaller population, reported 29 hate crimes during that period.
Nationwide, hate crimes against individuals soared upward in 2018, according to a recent FBI report. The report shows the overall number of hate crimes dipping a tiny amount, but a spike in hate-driven murders. It shows increases in crimes targeting Latinos, transgender and gender non-conforming people.
More than half of hate crime victims nationwide are probably not reporting incidents to police, according to a story by ProPublica, the investigative news agency that spearheaded Documenting Hate, a project that ends this year.
There’s another obstacle to accurate tracking — inconsistent counting by police. Civil rights groups say police often do a poor job investigating and tracking hate-driven violence — a view that, locally, many share.
“Nobody feels comfortable going to the police,” said Chico State sociology professor Lesa Johnson. “Students and people of color are victims of crime quite often, but have had enough experience with police to know that their complaints won’t be taken seriously.”
ChicoSol was unable to reach Chico PD for comment on this story, despite repeated efforts by phone and email over a three-week period.
Earlier this year, Chico Police Deputy Chief Matt Madden said his department takes all incidents seriously. “We want everybody to feel safe,” Madden told me after the June 2 graffiti spree that left southwest Chico marred by swastikas and racist language. “We have a diverse community, and don’t take this lightly.”
For the past several years, African Americans in Chico have been holding “Freedom Schools” – named after the Freedom Schools set up for black communities in the 1960s — that facilitate telephone networking and use of a mutual support system. It provides a sort of neighborhood watch involving both students and longtime community members who try to keep each other safe and reduce dependence on and need for law enforcement.
A growing gulf with police
The FBI defines a hate crime as a criminal offense driven by bias against a victim’s race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity or disability. People who are targeted because of their nationality, under California law, are also hate crime victims.
Police hate crime reporting is voluntary; most groups agree the FBI produces, at best, a “vast undercount,” ProPublica reports. Some police departments don’t report at all, and more than 80 percent report zero hate crimes in their jurisdictions. The University Police Department (UPD) reported zeros for 2016-2018.
On a personal note, I remember the sickening feeling I had when I thought that my Latino family members had been targeted. On a morning back in 2008, I found our car had been spray painted with the words “white power.” I wondered if the perpetrator was a neighbor and if I should worry about our safety. As a white woman, it felt easy and logical to report the incident to police, which I did. So when I began reporting for ChicoSol on these kinds of incidents, I was startled by the isolation of many victims.
Minority students who had come to Chico State and found themselves in a town that is 82 percent white feared drawing more attention to themselves by talking to a reporter. Yet, they had stories to tell, and in the telling, one sensed a longing to be heard. One group said they had rocks thrown at them in the presence of a police officer about the time of the 2016 presidential election.
They feared they might not be taken seriously if they reported these incidents – like that of the rock-throwing — and that, even worse, they might be treated as suspects instead of victims. Their mistrust was rooted in personal experience in other cities, but in this city as well.
Johnson said three young women recently went to Chico police to report a case of cyberstalking. The cyberstalking had recently escalated and become frightening. The problem itself had nothing to do with race, but the victims were women of color.
An officer, Johnson said, told the women to document the communication in case something happened. “They felt like police didn’t listen to them,” she said. “They [the officers] didn’t write anything down and looked very disinterested.”
As I interviewed community leaders for this story, though, they brought up something else that continues to cloud the relationship between Chico PD and people of color — the March 2017 police shooting that killed Desmond Phillips, a young black man in mental crisis. That killing created a “gulf,” Johnson noted.
“The death of Desmond Phillips really did rock both students and community members who are people of color,” she said.
Because the killing was ruled justifiable by the district attorney’s office, said Vince Haynie, an African American pastor, some officers are “a little more arrogant now.”
“I wish the chief would have said, ‘You officers were wrong. We should have backed off and called mental health people in,’” Haynie said.