Thursday, June 18, 2015

Hate groups and crimes persist; Poynter expert offers advice for coverage of Charleston shootings

Wednesday's murders of nine African Americans at a historic church in Charleston, S.C., and the arrest of a white suspect, reflect the sad fact that hate crimes continue and hate groups remain active in communities—especially in the South, where blacks were slaves for almost 250 years, until 150 years ago. Nearly 800 known hate groups existed in the U.S. in 2014, led by Mississippi, Arkansas and Montana, the three states with the most hate groups per million residents, Christopher Ingraham reports for The Washington Post.

On Wednesday night, Dylann Roof, a 21-year-old white man, entered a historic black church in downtown Charleston, N.C., and fatally shot nine people, including the pastor, The Shelby Star reports. Roof was apprehended just west of Shelby around 11 a.m., according to Charleston Police Chief Greg Mullen. Debbie Dills, a florist employee, and her boss Todd Frady made the first calls that led to Roof's arrest, Gabe Whisnant writes for the Star. Dills saw Roof on Highway 74 and called Frady, who then told Shane Davis of the Kings Mountain Police Department that the suspect was traveling West on Highway 74 in his black Hyundai. Soon after, the Shelby police caught Roof.

The FBI says blacks are the victims of most hate crimes, with more than 50 out of every 1 million African Americans having experienced a racially motivated hate crime in 2012, Ingraham writes. About 30 out of every one million Native Americans experienced a hate crime, 10 out of every million Hispanics, nine out of every Asian and less than five out of every million whites. It's widely believed that actual numbers are higher, because national numbers are reliant on local authorities, who are responsible for determining whether or not a crime is racially-motivated.

The Southern Poverty Law Center said the number of hate groups dropped from 1,018 in 2011 to 784 today, but that number is still well above the 457 groups in 1999, Ingraham writes. SPLC attributes the drop in hate groups to "an improving economy and recent law enforcement crackdowns, as well as widespread internecine squabbling and splintering within the groups themselves." (Post graphic)

Journalists writing or talking about the Charleston shooting and the apprehension of the suspect in Shelby, N.C., should be careful about the words they use, writes Al Tompkins of The Poynter Institute. Should we call it an act of terrorism? "We don't know yet," Tompkins writes, noting definitions of terrorism used by the BBC, the United Nations and the European Union.

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