“So even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream. I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.” — Martin Luther King Jr.
On Monday, we honored a man and an enduring dream, still not fully realized. Freezing rain derailed a planned Martin Luther King Jr. Day march and celebration in Bar Harbor but being cooped up in an ice globe offered plenty of time for reflection.
While great strides have been made since King delivered his message of hope, hate, too, endures.
The FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting Program in 2021 cataloged 7,262 hate crime incidents involving 8,673 offenses. That data is incomplete as submissions from law enforcement agencies are voluntary and not all have transitioned to a new federal reporting system. It was the first year that annual hate crime statistics were reported exclusively though the National Incident-Based Reporting System (NIBRS). Law enforcement agencies that are not using the new system were unable to submit statistics to the FBI, and the number of reporting agencies dropped significantly from 2020 to 2021. New York City and most Californian cities did not submit data. Without comparable participation, it’s impossible to analyze whether the situation is improving or worsening.
“California, for example, has reported only 72 hate crimes to the federal government for 2021, even though the state’s attorney general’s office had previously logged that figure as 1,763,” according to the New York Times.
Maine is not isolated from national issues.
A Houlton man was charged in connection with a Dec. 28, 2020, fire that destroyed the Martin Luther King Jr. Community Presbyterian Church in Springfield, Mass. According to charging documents, a search of the suspect’s electronic devices revealed recent messages calling to “eliminate all [racial slur].”
In September 2021, a Biddeford man was sentence to three years in prison after pleading guilty to conspiring to commit a hate crime and of committing a hate crime. The man and his uncle were outside a bar in Portland’s Old Port in 2018, when the uncle hit a Black man and broke his jaw. Racial slurs were used during the attack. The two then drove to a Biddeford convenience store and confronted a Black man. That man also had his jaw broken.
It is not enough to denounce such crimes. The motivations must be understood so that they can be prevented. Clear national statistics are integral to that effort.
We can’t fully realize the dream without understanding the reality.