FBI report shows hate crimes are on the rise

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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) Vermonters are responding to findings in an FBI report that indicate an increase in hate crimes nationwide.

It's been almost a month since Robert Bowers, 46, allegedly killed 11 people at a synagogue in Pittsburgh. Shortly after that shooting, the FBI released data about hate crimes in the United States.

The report says, nationwide, the number of reported hate crimes went up 17 percent this year, marking the third year in a row for the increase.

The FBI defines hate crimes as crimes motivated by bias based on a person's race, religion or sexual orientation.

The FBI says the increases may be a result of better reporting by police departments and people who are more comfortable sharing what happened to them.

Burlington Resident Shakuntala Roa has lived in the area for more than 25 years.

"There's definitely an increase in inclusiveness since I first moved here," Roa said.

She says she has not been the victim of a hate crime here in Vermont and she credits the community's reactiveness for how safe she feels.

However, the community is not immune to racism. Kiah Morris, Vermont's only African-American woman to represent in the Statehouse, says she got racist threats online.

Burlington Police sent out the following tweet as a response to the FBI report. It reads: "Report these crimes to us without hesitation or fear. We will listen, we will protect you, we will investigate, and we will make every arrest we can. That is our duty and we have sworn to uphold it."

Fellow Vermonters support the police and their efforts to have the community feel safe.

"The police department in this area are well trained in dealing with hate crime," said Bill Northrup of Swanton.

Knowing that the number of hate crimes reported is on the rise keeps Roa aware of her surroundings. For her, the conversation doesn't stop here, she says she educates her son on what can happen if he is not paying attention.

"I hope to teach my son, as well, that those are some of the things he needs to keep in mind, as he lives in a society which continues to be predominantly racist," Rao said.

The Justice Department said it is prioritizing hate crimes prosecutions and has created a specialized task force which includes a website for hate crimes resources.

As for Roa, she says she wants the spotlight to be on the people who commit the crimes, not the victims.