Knoxville (WVLT) - The numbers seem clear, TBI reports Tennessee had fewer hate crimes last year, than the year before.
But Volunteer TV’s Gordon Boyd reports the numbers may not tell the whole story.
It'd be easier if we could credit tougher laws, or people being more civil or compassionate.
Except that federal law defines what a hate crime is, not Tennessee.
And it gets more complicated when the victims don't see the crime as simple black and white.
“You just don't understand why folks would do things like that,” says Brother Charles Whitson from Waldridge Baptist Church.
The graffiti's long gone, but nine months after vandals sprayed Brother Charles Whitson's Walridge Baptist Church, and the Sullivan Road Christian Church with satanic signs and symbols.
“How would you define a hate crime?” Boyd asks.
“Well, one certainly that is committed out of hatred, basically, against an individual or an organization,” says Whitson.
Both attacks might seem to bear out. TBI's latest hate crime stats, 60 fewer incidents reported last year, than the year before. But attacks targeting religion almost double!
“Do you consider it a hate crime?” Boyd asks.
“Not really,” says Whitson. “I just believe its youthful, mischievous activities.”
Which could explain why Knoxville police counted neither case, but did count six attacks on African Americans, among the ten incidents it defined as hate crimes last year.
It could also explain why Blount County counted vandalism of the La Lupita Restaurant and store as one of two hate crimes against Hispanics, two years ago.
“Everybody is playing off the same sheet of music,” says TBI’s Jennifer Johnson. “What we do is train these individuals to collect the date, to look at the crime, and see if it was motivated by some type of bias.”
Knoxville police won't go on record as to how they define hate crimes.
Saying the white supremacist rally two Saturdays ago, and another set for Saturday next, could be fodder for moving a murder trial. Channon Christian and Chris Newsom are white. The four accused of killing them: black, but neither police nor the victim's families have called it racially motivated.
“We just want it stopped,” says Whitson.
Back at Walridge Baptist, Brother Whitson believes the cure the crime against church, could be as simple as security cameras. “We fixed it and are continuing on.“
The feds have states compile hate-crime stats, partly to target their crime fighting, and the money to pay for it.
TBI won't speculate on why numbers have dropped in some counties, risen in others, saying each county or city is dealing with hate-motivated attacks in its own way.
Which begs a larger question, just how valuable are these numbers?