Metro

LGBT community top target for hate acts in Boston

02/23/2017 BOSTON, MA Mason Dunn (cq) of the Mass Transgender Political Coalition, spoke during a rally to support trans students held at Post Office Square in Boston. (Aram Boghosian for The Boston Globe)
Aram Boghosian for The Boston Globe
Mason Dunn of the Massachusetts Transgender Political Coalition spoke at a February rally to support transgender students. One-third of hate crimes and bias incidents reported in Boston in 2016 were directed at members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community.

Members of the LGBT community are the most frequently reported targets of hateful acts in Boston, enduring more assaults, threats, and harassment than any other group, a Globe analysis of police data shows.

The number of reported hate crimes and bigoted actions last year against the LGBT community surpasses those aimed at Muslims, Jews, Latinos, and Asians combined, Boston Police Department figures indicate. And it is a trend that appears to be persisting: Numbers from the first two months of this year indicate a similar pattern.

But the analysis of Boston data also suggested a bit more heartening news: Reports of hateful acts overall in New England’s biggest city declined — by 9 percent — in 2016 compared with the year before, even as they surged in several other big cities, according to a review of local data and a nationwide study.

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Brian Levin, a professor of criminal justice and director of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino, recently analyzed reported hate crimes in 15 of the nation’s largest urban areas, including Boston. He found increases in nine of those cities, including a 62 percent surge in Washington, D.C., and a 50 percent jump in Philadelphia in 2016 compared with the previous year.

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The latest Boston police data show 275 hate crimes and bias incidents were reported in 2016 — down from 301 in 2015. Of that total, about one-third were directed at members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community. Black people were the second most common targets.

After police investigated each incident, they determined that about half rose to the level of hate crimes, which are defined as criminal acts coupled with behavior motivated by bigotry or bias.

Across the country, scrutiny of hate crimes has intensified amid mounting reports of violence in recent months against transgender people, Muslims, and South Asians, and a spate of bomb threats leveled at Jewish organizations and swastikas scrawled on homes and in schools.

Nationally, blacks by far have been the most common victims of hateful acts for the past quarter-century, Levin said.

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Yet Levin is seeing an ominous spike in hateful acts against people in the LGBT community in several cities, including New York and Washington. In the borough of Queens last week, a man was charged with a hate crime in connection with an attack on two transgender women outside a McDonald’s.

Levin said transgender people appear to be particularly vulnerable.

“We are extremely worried about this,” he said.

The Trump administration in February revoked federal protections for transgender students, scrapping guidelines that advised schools to treat transgender students consistent with their gender identity. Levin said this action, and earlier comments regarding protections for the LGBT community during last year’s divisive presidential campaign, may be fueling some of the increase in hateful acts.

Criminologists who track hate crimes say Boston’s police department is known nationwide as a model for combating the incidents. The department was among the first, decades ago, to establish a unit dedicated to the issue.

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“What you’ll find is that Boston has the highest per capita number of hate crimes, and that, ironically, is a good thing,” Levin said. “It shows Boston is doing a good job of identifying and responding to these crimes.”

Boston Sergeant Detective Carmen Curry, supervisor of the department’s Civil Rights Unit, which investigates suspected hate crimes, said she doesn’t know why reported hate crimes overall in the city decreased last year.

But Curry said the reports of hate crimes against LGBT individuals may reflect longstanding efforts by the department to bolster relations with the community, which have made victims feel more comfortable stepping forward.

“We have a really good relationship with the LGBT community,” Curry said. “We have an LGBT public safety committee, and we meet monthly with LGBT organizations to come and talk about issues they are concerned about.”

But an official with a leading LGBT social service agency said the reports to police likely represent only a fraction of the actual incidents.

“Not that much is reported to law enforcement, as opposed to what happens in the LGBT community, because of mistrust of law enforcement,” said Cara Presley, manager of the Violence Recovery Program at Fenway Health. “But those relations have improved over time.”

Presley said her program, which helps about 220 people each year, has tracked an increase in people seeking help because they were hate crime victims.

Last year, 55 people came to her program saying they were targeted, compared with 49 in 2015, Presley said.

“A minimal number of the people we serve report to law enforcement,” she said.

That also tends to be true for people of color reporting racially motivated crimes, said Jorge Martinez, executive director of Project RIGHT, an antiviolence organization in Grove Hall.

Martinez said he hears from residents who say they don’t believe the police have taken their reports seriously.

“We haven’t gotten enough responses and felt comfortable with the system,” he said.

While Boston police data show a decline last year in reported hate crimes for most categories, incidents targeting Muslims rose. Reports of such episodes, while small in number, nearly quadrupled, from 5 in 2015 to 19 in 2016.

“These trends are disturbing, but not surprising, as they mirror what we’ve been seeing nationally during the past two years,” said John Robbins, executive director of the Massachusetts chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, a Muslim civil rights group.

Donald Trump, while running for president in December 2015, cited a “great hatred toward Americans by large segments of the Muslim population,” and called for “a total and complete shutdown” of Muslims entering the United States.

“The toxic anti-Muslim rhetoric from the campaign trail, and now from the White House, has greatly emboldened those who would commit acts of violence against Muslims,” Robbins said.

The council’s Massachusetts chapter does not have data for anti-Muslim incidents, but Robbins said the national council tracked a 400 percent increase last year in calls across the United States.

Criminologists say national events can trigger a spike or drop in reported hate crimes, but rarely do such events affect all areas of the country equally. While reported incidents aimed at Muslims jumped in Boston last year, they fell by 44 percent in Los Angeles.

Criminologists also say tracking patterns in hate crimes can be difficult because the incidents tend to be underreported, and with such small pools of data, conclusions drawn from just a couple of years may not be representative.

America does not do a good job of tracking incidents of hate and bias. We need your help to create a database of such incidents across the country, so we all know what’s going on: https://projects.propublica.org/graphics/hatecrimes-form?source=boston-globe

Kay Lazar can be reached at kay.lazar@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @GlobeKayLazar.