By ERIN ROLL
roll@montclairlocal.news

While New Jersey is seeing an overall increase in bias crimes committed, Montclair is reporting a decline, according to the 2017-18 numbers supplied by the state.

The numbers also reveal that almost half of the bias crimes were committed by high school and university students, and that those numbers are on the rise.

The Bias Incident Report uses only crimes reported to law enforcement agencies, not incidents of harassment dealt with through school officials and which are reported in the annual violence and vandalism report.

In 2018, Montclair had four reported bias incidents, down one from in 2017. Six were reported in 2016. according to the state’s 2018 Bias Incident Report.

Statewide bias crimes have seen a steady incline numbered at 569 in 2018, 549 in 2017 and 417 in 2016.

After the release of the report in August, Lt. Governor Sheila Oliver announced the formation of a task force aimed at addressing bias crimes among young people, stating “hate has no home in New Jersey.”

 

MINORS COMMITTING THE INCIDENTS

Of the 227 known offenders statewide documented in the report, 101, or 46 percent, were minors between the ages 11 to 17.

Montclair State University did not have any recorded bias incidents for 2017, the most recent data year available, according to the university’s annual security report published last September.

All four incidents were committed by Montclair students and were reported to law enforcement, according to the schools’ statistics on bullying for the 2017-2018 school year.

Montclair NAACP chair Albert Pelham said he wasn’t surprised that the findings reflect that a large number of bias incidents were attributed to minors across the state. “I’m simply saying the climate of the country, being separated by race, class, sexual orientation...nobody’s hiding [their biases] anymore,” he said. “They feel they have an obligation to express themselves.”

Schools, houses of worship and community groups need to work together on fostering a climate of civility and respect before catastrophe strikes such as a shooting, Pelham said.

VIOLENCE AND VANDALISM REPORTS

Each year since 2012, all school districts, including Montclair, release numbers on incidents of violence, vandalism and bullying to the state board of education as required by law. The reporting encompasses all incidents that take place in the schools, regardless of whether they are reported to law enforcement.

The annual report includes reports of harassment, intimidation and bullying, including incidents motivated by bias.

For the 2017-2018 school year, the Montclair public schools began breaking down incidents of bullying by category, including incidents motivated by race, gender, sexual orientation, ethnic or national origin, or disability. That year, of the 40 confirmed bullying cases district-wide, three involved race, one involved religion, three involved ancestry, three involved gender, nine involved sexual orientation, five involved disability, and 21 involved “other.” Of those, four required police intervention.

Single incidents may be included in several categories, which means the total number may reflect duplicate incidents.

EFFORTS TO UNDO BIAS IN SCHOOLS

Montclair schools have implemented restorative justice efforts in the schools. Under restorative justice, a student who does something hurtful to another student is given the opportunity to apologize and make amends for their actions, rather than being punished outright. Montclair NAACP’s education committee chair James Harris said it was a move in the right direction.

For the past two years, the district has participated in the Undoing Racism project, which trains teachers to be aware of biases in curriculum and teaching practices. Harris said Undoing Racism has great promise for the Montclair schools.

He said the discussion should start with the students to give a voice to the issue of bias, noting that the Black Lives Matter movement was initiated largely by young people in response to police-involved shootings around the country.

But he said the district needs to understand where the bias is coming from — at home, in school or elsewhere.

BIAS TASK FORCE

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

The new Interagency Task Force to Combat Youth Bias is tasked with understanding the source of bias crimes. “So we can effectively target and educate the next generation about how to overcome hidden bias and treat each other with dignity and respect we all deserve.”

Attorney General Gurbir Grewal said bias crimes jeopardize residents' pursuit of freedom and opportunity.

“Bias incidents target individuals because of what they look like, how they worship, or who they love. They erode, undermine, and attack the identity and heritage of our citizens. They dehumanize people. And they shake the foundations of our cultural and religious institutions. We are taking action to end them by focusing on our young people,” he said.