New Jersey sees a rise in bias incidents perpetrated by young people

Adam Friedman, 19, a youth organizer with the Brady Campaign To Prevent Gun Violence, holds a sign saying

Adam Friedman, 19, a youth organizer with the Brady Campaign To Prevent Gun Violence, holds a sign saying "Disarm Hate" as other protesters spell out "No Hate" during a rally against racism and white nationalism, and in favor of gun laws, Tuesday, Aug. 6, 2019, near the White House in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

In 2018, New Jersey saw an uptick in the number of reported bias incidents, which occur when victims are targeted for their race, religion, sexual orientation, or other legally protected category.

But what got the particular attention of law enforcement officials was that nearly half of the known perpetrators were minors.

“When approximately half of the 59 people being arrested are young people, yes, that is a crisis,” said Attorney General Gurbir Grewal. “When half the incidents being reported occur on college campuses or universities or in elementary schools, yes, that is a crisis.”

A report on bias incidents statewide released Wednesday prompted Acting Gov. Sheila Oliver to sign an executive order establishing an Interagency Task Force to Combat Youth Bias, which will aim to suss out the root causes of hate in young people and suggest ways to stop it.

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“We are deeply disturbed by the upward trend of bias incidents happening nationwide, especially at our public colleges, and Gov. [Phil] Murphy and I are determined to do everything within our power as a state to stop them,” Oliver said.

The report, compiled by the New Jersey Attorney General’s Office and the New Jersey State Police, showed there were 569 bias incidents in 2018, a 4% increase from the previous year. Most of the offenders were white and most were male.

State officials said it was possible the increase was due to people feeling more comfortable reporting bias incidents. But they also said that hateful political rhetoric and the pervasiveness of social media also likely contributed to the uptick.

“Research also suggests that extreme political rhetoric can contribute to an increase in hate crimes and is also linked to increased hate on social media,” said Rachel Wainer Apter, director of the New Jersey Division on Civil Rights.

Law enforcement officials say the perpetrators of three recent mass shootings — in Gilroy, California; El Paso, Texas; and Dayton, Ohio — were all interested in or had expressed extremist views. At least one of the shootings is being investigated as domestic terrorism.

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