Tim Jefferson is a victims' specialist with the U.S. Attorney's Office in Tucson. Hired for a special program to serve victims of border crimes, Jefferson also helps coordinate the Southern Arizona Hate Crimes Task Force. The task force has a new website and is hoping to help Tucson's various communities, including Tucson's LGBT community, recognize the importance of reporting hate crimes. For more on the task force, go to www.sahctf.org, or call 620-7461.
What is your focus with the task force?
The dilemma is that we hear from the community about complaints of discrimination or incidents that could be classified as hate crimes, but ... historically, a lot of these groups have a lot of distrust and don't feel comfortable going to law enforcement. We're trying to bridge that gap and figure out how we can get our message out there. We want to inform them what their rights are, and tell them how to report these crimes.
How did the website come about?
We applied and received some funding through the Pima County Attorney's Office for the website, which is going to help us increase community outreach.
Do you have an outreach strategy?
We'll build on the website and ask for community feedback on what info needs to be added, and what (the website) needs to increase accessibility. We realized that at the recent forum held by the U.S. attorney that the community has lots of concerns, and they cover a wide variety of issues. Some (incidents) may not rise to the level of a hate crime, but are types of discrimination. We want to make sure we can direct everyone to the right place. If (someone has) a complaint ... as a disabled person, we know a good point of contact that works with the ADA (Americans With Disabilities Act), or if it is a workplace-discrimination complaint, then we will refer them to the Department of Labor's Equal Employment Opportunity Office.
Is one goal to collect more data to track crimes?
Right now, that's one of our goals, but first, we have to educate the community. We realize there is a lot of fear, and some people might not be aware that they can contact law enforcement. Sometimes, people might not have enough info on who to call—local police, or the FBI office to do a full-scale investigation? But if they suspect they are victims of a hate crime, they need to call 911 immediately. That will get a local law-enforcement agency there to gather evidence that still might be available.
Would recognizing trends help?
Yes, especially when people have concerns about specific incidents. So, in order to get that data, part (of the issue) is showing how people can report these crimes. They can report to the anonymous tip lines, and we have links to online reporting that's available through the Tucson Police Department, Pima County Sheriff's Department and the FBI. If we are aware of concerns—for example, if there is bullying going on in a certain community—then the task force can be proactive, and prevention is a big part of our goal. We don't want to have another horrific incident in our community, like Matthew Shepard (a young gay man who was beaten to death in Wyoming in 1998). ... We have been working with groups who are doing anti-bullying programs in schools, and we try to coordinate with them.
Are populations in the LGBT, Latino and undocumented communities the groups you hope to reach most?
I wouldn't limit it to those groups. Keep in mind there is anti-Semitism, and people in the Muslim community have been targeted. Another group is the Sikhs, who are often misidentified as Muslim and then targeted. ... The Sikh example is a good one, because if you are talking about hate crimes, it is all about the bias and how someone is perceived by the attacker. ... Hate crime is a crime linked with that bias.
Does Tucson have a high or low hate-crime rate?
Statistically—but, again, this is why we are encouraging people to report—Tucson isn't higher than any other part of the country. But we are aware of concerns, especially in this political climate in general in Arizona. There are different groups that are feeling very marginalized, so we are trying to reach out and reiterate that despite what they are hearing, they do have rights as victims, and that we do want them to report.