Media distortion of FBI crime statistics contributes to our national divide

Media distortion of FBI crime statistics contributes to our national divide
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The FBI just released analysis of hate crime statistics, detailing offenses, victims, offenders, and crime locations for 2016. This annual data is provided as part of its Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR). The occurrence of Hate Crimes saw a slight uptick of five percent over the previous year.

Hate Crimes are considered to be the top investigative priority of the FBI’s Civil Rights program. They are defined as “a crime, usually violent, motivated by prejudice or intolerance toward an individual’s national origin, ethnicity, color, religion, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, or disability.”

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Many had been anxiously anticipating the arrival of the 2016 UCR. The shocking election of Donald J. Trump last November, they were certain, had ushered in an era of unapologetic racism, bigotry, and hatred. The presumed targets of the Trump constituency were Muslims, African-Americans, homosexuals, and recent immigrants.

 

The Report, however, simply didn’t comport with their predetermined outcome. Funny how this works. We breathlessly await release of data, desperately hoping it supports our hypothesis. When it doesn’t, we simply dismiss the findings, or “spin” them to promote a false narrative.

To wit, Michael Goodwin of the New York Post shared these incontrovertible facts about the Report:

“…[M]ore than half of the 1,538 hate crimes involving religion targeted Jews, while less than 25 percent targeted Muslims.”

Goodwin went on to note that while headlines attached to the Report’s release trumpeted “Hate Soars,” in actuality, the murder rate rose faster — an 8.6 percent increase over 2015 — than incidents involving a Hate Crime.

But no one seemed to notice, or care.

At the Huffington Post, they took in the report’s findings and ran a story on the UCR’s statistics while attaching a shocking photograph of a Muslim Community Center’s façade marred by bigoted graffiti.

Had they not read deep enough into the study to see how Jews were disproportionately affected?

Or, did the selected photograph better support their trope?

This is exactly where the media plays a role in dividing us. To the unsuspecting web surfer happening upon the HuffPo piece with no time to read the concordant article, they ingest the purposely selected photograph and draw distorted conclusions.

And the fissures in our nation begin to further widen.

The media can skew our perspective on the prevalence of Hate Crimes targeted at one group versus another. Just last week, Yahoo cited an August 3, 2017 FBI Intelligence Assessment entitled, “Black Identity Extremists Likely Motivated to Target Law Enforcement Officers.”

Now, you’d presuppose that with law enforcement on duty deaths jumping nearly twenty percent by the halfway point of this year, the Yahoo story would highlight the proliferation of “black identity extremists” and the attendant threat to law enforcement.

No, not hardly.

2016 culminated in 135 officer slayings; the deadliest year for police in five years. Many of these incidents were actual assassinations.

Yet lost in the shuffle amidst the media’s hyper-focus on officer-involved-shootings are some facts that don’t neatly fit into the promoted trope that white, redneck cops are hunting down young men of color to indiscriminately slaughter.

For Yahoo, the notion that an apolitical intelligence assessment identified “black identity extremists” as a threat to law enforcement means it is time to manufacture fears that the FBI is returning to the days of COINTELPRO, “[w]hen the bureau spied on activist groups without evidence that they had broken any laws.”

The Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) added their shrill voice to this red herring, dismissing evidence that portions of social activist groups like Black Lives Matter (BLM) traffic, at times, in a bit more than “peaceful protesters.” They fired off a letter to FBI Director Christopher Wray, concerned that the Report “conflates black political activists with dangerous domestic terrorist organizations.”

To some in the media, every Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpHannity urges Trump not to fire 'anybody' after Rosenstein report Ben Carson appears to tie allegation against Kavanaugh to socialist plot Five takeaways from Cruz, O'Rourke's fiery first debate MORE supporter is guilty by association of “white supremacy” inclinations. Is it then not fair to also acknowledge the complicity of BLM in cop assassinations?

The FBI’s compiled evidence supporting the theory of an emerging trend of “black identity extremists” increasingly targeting law enforcement is dismissed as a “conflation”

It will soon be viewed as — wait for it — “racism.”

The facts don’t often align with the narratives some desperately want to promote. Following the repugnant display of bigotry by the white supremacy goons and depraved murder of a counter-protester, Heather Heyer, in Charlottesville, N.C. in August of this year, many falsely proclaimed that white supremacists and neo-Nazis were the FBI’s most sinister emerging threat.

It has been widely reported that much of the bureau’s counterterrorism resources were being allocated to combat the “proliferation” of these domestic terror groups. Speculation abounds that they are the most deadly terror organization facing America in 2017.

It’s simply not true.

I retired from the FBI’s New York Office (NYO) in 2016. At the time, I was the special assistant to the assistant director in charge of the bureau’s largest field office, a de facto chief-of-staff, with access to resource allocations for the office.

A little less than one-tenth of the FBI’s 12,000 special agents were assigned to the New York. The NYO consists of some 2,400 employees, investigating some of the biggest cases in the country.

The Funded Staffing Level (FSL) for the Counterterrorism division of the NYO for domestic (DT) and international (IT) terrorism investigations in 2016 was not fully satisfied. Somewhere around fourteen percent of the agent population in the NYO was dedicated to counterterror matters.

A total of seventeen squads were focused on DT and IT investigations. The vast majority of these squads focused on the extremist threats related to radical Islam.

Only one was comprised of assorted threat investigations that included cases targeting white supremacists, neo-Nazis, Black Panthers, and the Sovereign Citizen Movement.

The FBI has historically followed the evidence and applied resources where demanded by the threat.

And the facts simply don’t support the mythology.

And that’s where some in the media needs to do a better job of promoting the truth.

James A. Gagliano is a CNN law enforcement analyst and retired FBI supervisory special agent. He also serves as an adjunct assistant professor at St. John's University and is a leadership consultant at the Thayer Leader Development Group (TLDG) at his alma mater, the United States Military Academy at West Point. Follow him on Twitter @JamesAGagliano.