At a time when national civil rights leaders are calling for a renewed federal focus on hate crimes, Florida reported the lowest level in nearly a decade, according to a report released Monday by the state Attorney General's Office.
Broward County had the most incidents statewide, however, with 50 crimes motivated by hatred of the victims' race, religion, sexual orientation or ethnicity/national origin. Palm Beach County, with 15, was in the top five statewide.
According to the report, the number of cases dropped by one last year to 259, the lowest since 1998. The nation, however, saw an 8 percent increase in hate crimes. Florida usually averages about 277 hate crimes each year.
And so days after demonstrators descended on the Justice Department in Washington, demanding the federal government respond more vigorously to noose hangings and other instances of racial antagonism, Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum said his office will do its part.
"Our Office of Civil Rights is committed to fighting any hate-motivated injustices as part of its mission," he said in a statement. . .
About 20 percent of the victims in Broward said they were targets because of their sexual orientation and one-third of the victims in Palm Beach said they were targeted because of their religion, the report said.
But activists for both the Muslim and gay rights communities say they don't share the state's view that tolerance has improved. Victims, they said, are reluctant to come forward for fear of retaliation, escalating tensions and a fear that an untrained officer might share the bias.
Altaf Ali, Florida director for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said he received a letter in March that called Islam the "religion of Satan" and referred to him as "a walking dead man."
"In the past you had graffiti, or a hateful look, but now we're talking about death threats," he said. (MORE)