I began my career in Congress 16 years ago committed to fighting hatred and bigotry.
My very first speech on the House floor was about the Holocaust. My very last piece of legislation before I leave seeks to ensure that victims of hate crimes are fully protected.
Over the last several weeks, we have seen an increase in the number of hate crimes reported across the country. National attention was focused on white nationalists meeting in Washington D.C., who raised their right arms proclaiming “Hail victory!” in honor of President-elect Donald Trump. Locally, swastikas were found in high schools in Port Washington and Northport, and Ku Klux Klan fliers were placed on cars in Patchogue.
In fact, the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report on hate crimes, released two weeks ago, is a disturbing read.
It details an uptick in hate crimes in 2015 — a total of 5,818 hate crimes — with an increase of about 6 percent over the last year. More than 50 percent of the incidents in the report were driven by race, ethnicity or ancestry.
The FBI figures detail a 67 percent increase in hate crimes against Muslim Americans, although the number of attacks also surged against African-Americans, Jews and members of the LGBT community.
These statistics likely understate the problem because many incidents are not reported to local, state and federal authorities.
I’ve introduced a bill to establish a National Hate Crimes Hotline. It would create a toll-free hotline and secure website where hate crime victims could anonymously find information on physical and mental health services, among other services.
It’s unlikely this bill will pass in the current Congress, but my colleague Rep. Mark Takano (D-Calif.) has agreed to reintroduce it in the next Congress to ensure this crucial legislation is reconsidered until it gets passed.
There is a need for this hotline because hate crimes are notoriously underreported, making them harder to track and combat. It is modeled after the successful National Domestic Violence Hotline, a 24-hour, confidential, toll-free hotline created through the Violence Against Women Act. Since its creation, there has been an increase in the reporting of domestic violence, and it has helped law enforcement combat domestic violence and help survivors.
We must do the same with hate crimes. Creating a national hotline would go a long way to help us combat these crimes.
Rep. Steve Israel is a Democrat from Huntington who is retiring from Congress.