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Hate crime reports on rise at BGSU and in Toledo

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    Angelica Euseary, Bowling Green State University Black Student Union president, listens during a meeting at Bowling Green State University on Oct. 18.

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    Zarina Cornelius, Bowling Green State University Black Student Union vice president, speaks during a meeting at Bowling Green State University.

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    Micah Ellsberry, sophomore at Bowling Green State University, enjoys a Black Student Union meeting.

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Early this year, a student at Bowling Green State University came across vandalism inside the campus Fine Arts Center.

On the restroom wall, behind the toilet, someone wrote two messages onto ceramic tiles. The first included a racial slur. A second said, “I voted 4 TRUMP.” An ensuing BGSU police investigation did not find a suspect.

Such incidents hardly surprise Angelica Euseary, president of the university's Black Student Union.

“Not only are you like a raisin in some rice, but people treat you weird. BG taught me that I was black, because I never had to pay attention to it before I got here,” Ms. Euseary said. 

After Charlottesville, Va. police identified a Toledo man, James Fields, Jr., as the driver who killed a woman at a white nationalist rally, The Blade sought to better understand hate crime in northwest Ohio. 

VIDEO: BGSU Black Student Union president Angelica Euseary

It requested reports from dozens of regional law enforcement agencies. Reports were requested dating back to June 1, 2013, through May 31 of this year.

In the city of Toledo, hate crimes reported to police more than doubled over The Blade’s tracking period. Investigators learned of 34 incidents from June, 2013 through May, 2015. That figure grew to 76 from June, 2015 into May, 2017.

The totals include 52 reports of hate crimes victimizing black residents and 19 against whites. Another 23 targeted victims for their sexuality.

Federal authorities define a hate crime as any criminal offense against a person or property that’s motivated by prejudice toward a race or ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, or disability.

The narratives across municipal and university departments widely show derogatory messages toward others or left in public places were the most commonly reported hate crime in the region. Only two departments, BGSU and Toledo city police, reported a large increase in such crimes since June, 2013.

BGSU had zero reported hate crimes during the first two-year period. That number grew to eight — all similar acts of vandalism — during the second two year period. 

From Detroit to BGSU

BGSU enrolled 14,872 undergraduate students in fall 2016. Seventy-seven percent of them are white compared to nine percent black and four percent Hispanic, state records show.

After growing up in Detroit — where the population was 82 percent black as of the 2010 census — Ms. Euseary, 20, felt her race more pronounced in Bowling Green. She cited a man who two years ago described her as smart for a black woman.

Ms. Euseary, a junior studying journalism, now leads the Black Student Union. About 40 people filled a classroom one recent evening for a group meeting.

Members played trivia games and shared their favorite parts of black culture. They spoke of contributions to arts and technology, resiliency, and sense of community.

The Black Student Union supports them toward success and feeling safe at BGSU. It's important to have a good time as well, Ms. Euseary said.

Racially motivated vandalism spreads on social media and affects black students, Ms. Euseary said. Some may be more comfortable talking at a meeting than contacting police, she said.

“At this point, it's not us. We are doing what we are supposed to do. We want to reach out to people who are racist and try to make them not racist,” Ms. Euseary said.

An anonymous message on a residence hall door or elevator wall can frighten people. Undergrads in new surroundings should feel secure from harassers, she said.

“They are younger than me, or my age, and they have all this hate in them already,” she said of those who commit such acts.

Ms. Euseary said she believes President Trump emboldened racists to comfortably publicize their views. She suggests white students attend and engage in Black Student Union meetings.

Micah Ellsberry, a 19-year-old studying biology, is a board member for the Black Student Union. The group creates a family environment, she said.

“Especially with the small percentage of African-American students on [campus], it's just good to see them come, mix and mingle with each other. Come wind down after classes,” Ms. Ellsberry said.

Officers take every hate report seriously and urge victims to come forward, BGSU police Chief Michael Campbell said.

University officials have over the past year and a half increasingly encouraged students to report these incidents, said Dave Kielmeyer, BGSU spokesman.

The campus is not immune to racial matters of late across the country, and some hate groups target universities as well, Mr. Kielmeyer said. He suggested the uptick in reported hate crimes comes in part from the BGSU community speaking up and officials diligently investigating incidents, he said, while in other places things like hate-fueled vandalism can go largely unreported.

“I think in many cases a slur written on a bathroom door, maintenance paints it, or writes it off, and that's it,” Mr. Kielmeyer said.

Mr. Kielmeyer said respect and promoting a culture of diversity and inclusion are core values at the university. Ms. Euseary's comments regarding campus life mean the university must work harder to communicate and enact those values, he said.

Motive is key

In the city of Toledo, hate crimes reported to police more than doubled over The Blade's tracking period. Investigators learned of 34 incidents from June, 2013 through May, 2015. That figure grew to 76 from June, 2015 into May, 2017.

The totals include 52 reports of hate crimes victimizing black residents and 19 against whites. Another 23 targeted victims for their sexuality.

Detectives review potential hate crimes and try to determine if prejudice played a role, Capt. Joe Heffernan said.

“Was it motivated by race, religion, or ethnicity? Or did something else happen?” he said.

Toledo’s increase is likely cyclical, a result of nationwide race relations, and greater awareness, Captain Heffernan said.

The majority of such reported crimes are not violent, but more a matter of harassment. Confirming a hate crime allows for increased severity of charges, Captain Heffernan said.

“Somebody's ability to live in peace is one of the main reasons we are here as a police department,” he said.

With fewer crimes than large cities, Oregon can dedicate necessary resources toward investigating hate crimes, Chief Mike Navarre said.

These cases may often seem less serious at first but can escalate. Encoruaging mediation or that two people simply go separate ways is vital, he said.

“It could be a minor dispute between two neighbors that, left unchecked, could turn into a homicide,” Chief Navarre said.

A conversation with those involved can reveal serious, open biases, he said.

“You try to impress upon them that they have different beliefs, and we have to live in a world where people disagree,” Chief Navarre said.

Of the 25 area departments that provided reports to The Blade, 12 responded with zero incidents in four years. 

Ryan King, an Ohio State University sociology professor who studies these offenses, said not all police departments fully track such data. Much of this relies on an officer's discretion, and training may not fully instruct what constitutes a hate crime. Investigators can also fail to find the crime’s hateful motivation, he said.

“There's very little guidance from the federal government as to where that line is drawn, but it means we can't look at all reported hate crimes as necessarily being of the same mold,” Mr. King said.

A distrust of some toward police and victims’ fears of pursuing justice decrease reporting rates as well, he said.

University campuses are often more tolerant than other locations, Mr. King said. However, there are youth committing relatively low-level crimes and increased reporting rates, he said.

“They have a very sensitive antenna to claims and accusations of bias and harassment,” Mr. King said.

Contact Ryan Dunn at rdunn@theblade.com, 419-724-6095, or on Twitter @RDunnBlade.

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