Remembering Khalid Jabara & Heather Heyer with Call to Action
By Heba Mohammad/Arab America Contributing Writer
On August 12th, the country remembered the tragic deaths of Khalid Jabara and Heather Heyer, who were both killed in hate-motivated crimes. Jabara was shot on the porch of his Tulsa, Oklahoma home by a neighbor in 2016, and Heyer was killed in 2017 when a white supremacist drove his car into a crowd protesting the white supremacist rally taking place in Charlottesville, Virginia. Their killers were convicted of hate crime charges, but their deaths do not appear as hate crimes in official statistics. Now, their families and advocates nationwide are calling on Congress to take action to ensure no other victims are rendered invisible by the data that drive this country’s response to hate-motivated violence.
Khalid Jabara’s murderer spent years harassing and threatening the Jabara family with anti-Arab and anti-Muslim slurs before fatally shooting Khalid. Less than a year before the murder, the perpetrator used his car to hit and severely injure Haifa Jabara, Khalid’s mother, who has said their family was targeted because they are Arab American.
Heather Heyer was among the counter-demonstrators voicing opposition to a white supremacist rally when a rally participant drove his car into the large crowd, injuring dozens and killing Heather. The self-identified neo-Nazi plead guilty to 29 hate crime charges in federal court and was convicted in a circuit court of additional charges for which he was recently sentenced to a second life sentence.
Adding to the pain of these losses is the fact that neither death was reported as a hate crime by local law enforcement for inclusion in the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s (FBI) annual hate crime report. The latest FBI hate crime report is based on data collected from the Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Program in 2017 and shows a 17% increase in hate crime overall and approximately 7,100 reported incidents. 2017 was the third consecutive year of hate crime increases.
The UCR data rely on local and state law enforcement reporting and notoriously underrepresent the number of bias-motivated crimes occurring in the United States. A different method of data collection is a nationally representative household survey, the National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS). This survey regularly reports an average of 200,000 hate crimes annually, demonstrating the UCR’s ghastly undercount of hate crimes.
Both the FBI report and the NCVS are important components in the country’s understanding of hate crime and present the best available picture of the issues at hand. The information collected in these annual reports helps inform resource allocation, research on emerging or ongoing trends in hate crime, and policy decisions intended to combat the problem of hate and related crimes.
The omission of the deaths of Khalid and Heather have raised significant questions about how hate crimes are reported by local law enforcement to the UCR, when they are reported at all, and what can be done to improve accuracy in the reports that are made.
In a joint op-ed published in the New York Times this week, Susan Bro, mother of Heather Heyer, and Haifa Jabara ask, “[W]hy weren’t [Khald and Heather] included in the federal government’s count of hate crimes? Why did these high-profile cases slip through the cracks?”
While these questions linger about their own losses, these mothers are determined to prevent the suffering of other families whose loved ones may also go uncounted in official hate crime data—data that are supposed to inform policy to prevent future hate crimes.
The Khalid Jabara and Heather Heyer National Opposition to Hate, Assault, and Threats to Equality Act of 2019 were introduced in June with the intent to improve hate crime data collection to, in turn, help law enforcement identify, prevent, and respond to hate crimes. The bipartisan Jabara-Heyer NO HATE Act is supported by both families and advocates nationwide as necessary legislation to better inform hate crime response and protect communities from hate-motivated violence.
In the same way, Susan and Haifa have asked Congress to pass the Jabara-Heyer NO HATE Act, you, too, must call on your representatives to pass this legislation. While your representatives are still in August Recess and spending time in-district, schedule a meeting to ask them to cosponsor the Jabara-Heyer NO HATE Act (S.2043|H.R.3545). You can reach your Senators’ offices by calling the Capitol Hill Switchboard at (202) 224-3121, and your House Representative’s office by calling 202-225-3121.
Congress must approve this legislation, and send a clear message to the country: hate crime is not welcome, and its prevention will always remain a priority in the United States.
Heba Mohammad is a National Field Coordinator at the Arab American Institute