No one likes a snitch.

But there are times when reporting poor behavior or telling the truth to authority is valuable for societal health. The Federal Bureau of Investigation has recognized this fact and has launched a national public awareness campaign calling on everyday citizens to report hate crimes when they see them.

The FBI has defined a hate crime as a “criminal offense against a person or property motivated in part by an offender’s bias against a race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, ethnicity, gender or gender identity.” Such crimes are disgusting and tear at the country’s social fabric.

People should be able to disagree politically or socially without criminally attacking one another. And yet, the stats indicate that they can’t. The FBI has in the past acknowledged that white supremacy and hate groups now account for the largest share of U.S. domestic terrorism, and the local field office has stated that some such groups are alive and active in Western Pennsylvania. Not that such groups are the only perpetrators of hate crimes or cannot themselves be the target, of course.

Additionally, study after study has demonstrated that hate crimes are wildly underreported, with one 2019 paper in the journal American Behavioral Science stating that “we detected an increasingly stronger propensity for bias crime victims to not report their victimization.”

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The study claims that victims of hate crimes do not trust America’s justice systems to take their complaints seriously. This in and of itself is a problem, but it’s a separate discussion.

Here’s what can be done now: Everyday citizens can take it upon themselves to step up and report when they see something amiss. If the victims themselves are reluctant to report such crimes, then it’s up to the people in their lives or even bystanders to help ensure that justice has its day. (The reporting hotline is 1-800-225-5324, or tips can be submitted at tips.fbi.gov.)

There are some who find the idea of crying foul distasteful or even unnecessary given that there is a mechanism for investigating and punishing such crimes. However, the key here is that hate crimes are underreported. The element of hate reduces the likelihood that victims will speak out.

The FBI is calling on residents to help them discover and investigate such incidents, as the bureau cannot launch an investigation based on hateful language alone — there must be a threat of violence, a furtherance of an ideology or a federal crime. Now it’s up to residents to step up when they are able.

©2021 PG Publishing Co.

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