Skinheads and other hate crime groups terrorize the innocent while instilling fear into communities across the nation. According to the Southern Law Poverty Center's (SPLC's) Intelligence Project, a non-profit organization that tracks the American radical right, "The racist skinheads' trademark style - shaved head, combat boots, bomber jacket, neo-Nazi and white power tattoos - has become a fixture in American culture."
It's evident that skinheads and hate groups are becoming more prevalent each year. According to the FBI 2005 Hate Crime Statistics, 54.7 percent of the 7,160 single-bias incidents were triggered by a religious bias and 13.2 percent were motivated by an ethnicity/national origin bias.
In 2006, the SPLC specifically tracked more than 844 cases which included groups such as the Ku Klux Klan, Neo-Nazi, Black Separatist, Neo-Confederate, Racist Skinhead and Christian Identity. Skinheads can be involved with groups such as these.
"From a law enforcement and safety standpoint, these are people who are on the most violent edge of the extreme right, people whose culture is a violent culture," says Joseph Roy of the SPLC. Roy says the extreme anti-political and anti-law enforcement opinions and culturally violent beliefs of the skinheads are a dangerous mix.
"From those two aspects they're a threat to law enforcement," Roy says. He believes it is inevitable for law enforcement to encounter these groups within their communities. In fact, he says it is more likely for police to encounter skinheads than they are any other terrorist group. Knowledge and education about the ways skinheads and other hate groups operate is imperative.
"It's important for law enforcement to at least have an idea what's going on out there domestically," Roy says.
In May, the House of Representatives passed H.R. 1592: Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act (LLEHCPA) of 2007 to provide federal assistance to state and local jurisdictions, as well as Indian tribes, to prosecute hate crimes.
This act defines "hate crime" as any violent act causing death or bodily injury because of the actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity or disability of the victim.
LLEHCPA will allow local law enforcement the additional resources they need to investigate and prosecute those who commit serious hate crimes.
According to documentation from the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP), law enforcement has an ongoing role with hate crime victims and the community. The IACP says that officers and their departments can support hate crime victims and members of the community in the following ways:
- Provide victim(s) a point of contact in the department to whom they can direct questions or concerns.
- Inform them on case progress including the end result of the investigation and/or prosecution.
- Help to connect them with appropriate support services, victim advocates and community-based organizations when needed.
- Protect the privacy of the victim and their families as possible.
- Engage the media as partners in restoring victimized communities through sensitive and accurate reporting.
- Support or coordinate community clean-up efforts.
- Participate in meetings or other forums designed to address the community-wide impact of hate incidents or crimes.
- Collaborate with community leaders to mobilize resources that can be used to assist victims and prevent future hate crimes.
An undercover 'Skin'
Someone who knows the dangers and realities of hate crimes is Det. Matt Browning of the Mesa (Arizona) Police Department. Browning has worked on hate crimes for 12 of his 16 years with the department.
He says even though first responders treat hate crime investigations like any other, there are clues investigators can use to determine if skinheads or other hate crime groups are involved. For instance, tattoos are often very indicative of the type of group who committed the crime.