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Hate Crimes, Continued

Ramesh Ponnuru says I'm being unfair and that the White House opposes the hate-crimes bill because of concerns over federalism, not because the bill would add sexual orientation to the list of protected categories. That might well be true. In the past, people like Barney Frank have claimed that the GOP leadership scuttled versions of the bill mainly because they included protections for gays and lesbians, but hey, it's possible that Frank's wrong and they really were doing so out of a principled concern for federalism. Somehow I doubt it, but I'm no mind reader.

I'm not quite as convinced, though, by Ponnuru's claim that there's "no evidence" that local governments "have a special problem funding work against hate crimes." To take one example, which Dave Neiwert discusses in Death on the Fourth of July, many law-enforcement agencies--especially in smaller towns or rural areas--offer little or no training for hate crimes. (Only 31 percent offer more than two hours worth.) And there's evidence to suggest that this makes a big difference.

One major Justice Department study published in 2000 found a correlation between the reporting of hate crimes and the level of training provided in a given agency (p. 77). According to the authors, the single biggest factor causing hate crimes to go unreported was the level of trust between minorities and local law enforcement (p. 29). And nearly 6,000 agencies likely experienced at least one hate crime that went unreported (which, if true, would seem to contradict Dale Carpenter's argument that there's no "evidence of widespread, systematic underenforcement"). One major aim of the current hate-crimes legislation is to offer training grants to local agencies on this front. That, at the very least, seems quite warranted.

--Bradford Plumer