Federal Hate Crime Cases at Highest Level Since ’01(Note how the anecdote and the statistic are connected in the lede, suggesting a causal relationship between the Pennsylvania case and the statistical trend.)
Two days after the Justice Department announced federal indictments related to the fatal beating of a Mexican immigrant in Shenandoah, Pa., federal authorities said the charges were part of a larger effort to step up civil rights enforcement after nearly eight years of decreased hate crime prosecutions. . . .
Thomas E. Perez, head of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, said the department brought more federal hate crime cases this year than in any other year since 2001.Please pay attention to the variable -- the annual number of federal hate-crimes prosecutions -- that is the basis of that "highest level" headline. There is no evidence in the story that the frequency of such crimes has changed. Rather, the Department of Justice has decided to prosecute more of these crimes as federal cases.
During the budget year that ended in September, 25 hate crime cases were filed, Mr. Perez said. By comparison, that number fell to a low of 12 in 2006, before rising to 23 in 2008. In 2001, 31 such cases were filed.
Mr. Perez said he was "shocked to see the downtick in prosecutions of hate crimes" during the George W. Bush administration, adding, "The Civil Rights Division is again open for business."
This is an important distinction, and there is no suggestion that the Ramirez case -- the anecdotal "hook" of the New York Times story -- would not have likewise been prosecuted by the Bush administration.
Federal hate-crimes prosecutions are useful in cases where there is reason to belief that state and local prosecution may be inadequate to the severity of the crime. For example, if the Klan burns a cross in someone's yard and the perpetrators get off with a plea-bargained arson conviction and a suspended sentence, federal intervention can be justified. And the Ramirez case, where local law-enforcement officials are accused of falsifying police reports to cover up for murderers, represents another justifiable intervention.
Nevertheless, prosecutorial discretion involves a number of different considerations, including the appropriate allocation of personnel and other resources. If fewer federal hate-crimes cases were prosecuted during the Bush administration, perhaps this was because the Justice Department was busy dealing with cases related to terrorism.
It may well be -- and I suggest this merely as a possibility -- that state and local law-enforcement have done a better job at prosecuting hate crimes, thus lessening the need for federal intervention. Or it may even be that there is a declining trend in the number of hate crimes.
But these are not possibilities that the New York Times wishes its readers to consider, preferring to create the impression that the Bush administration was indifferent to civil rights, and that the Obama administration is now rectifying a shameful oversight.
Of course, that is not a possibility that can be ruled out a priori. Yet we must note that the Times article dishonestly insinuates that conclusion in the absence of any actual evidence.