You should be concerned that hate crime is on the rise in N.J. | Editorial

France is mourning the death of Mireille Knoll, an 85-year-old Holocaust survivor who was stabbed 11 times in her Paris apartment before her home was set on fire.

Police say the attack on Knoll was a crime of hate, fueled by the ancient fires of anti-Semitism. Two men are in custody, one of them a young neighbor the elderly grandmother had befriended.

The news comes during a season holy to Christians and Jews, and it mirrors data showing that hate crimes are rising in our own state, after years of decline.

Citing data collected through the end of 2016, the State Police study found the targets were predominantly blacks and Jews, each representing about 30 percent of the total reported victims. More than a quarter of the incidents took place in our schools.

Although numbers for 2017 are still being reviewed, N.J. Attorney General Gurbir Grewal predicts that they will reach even higher numbers.

It’s tempting for the many opponents of Donald Trump to blame the 45th president for the frightening rise in bias crimes, but the truth is, many of the local findings pre-date his election.

While many of Trump’s most outrageous actions and statementsbefore and after his inauguration have stoked hatred directed at Muslims, immigrants and various “others,” his presence in the White House is not the cause of intolerance, but a result of it.

Attorney General Grewel sees the increase in New Jersey’s numbers as a complex interweaving of factors.

“The uptick, certainly, is reflective of increased incidents as we see this behavior become normalized and some of the rhetoric we’re seeing nationally,” he told an interviewer. “But it’s also reflective of us better capturing data and encouraging reporting.”

The Garden State has been tracking bias crimes since 1988 and is considered to have one of the most effective systems in the country. But advocates lament that data reports nationwide are inconsistent and insufficiently vetted.

Experts believe police are poorly educated about what constitutes a hate crime. Under-reporting among law enforcement is frequent, the FBI says.

Now dozens of news organizations, including NJ Advance Media and ProPublica, are joining hands to fill in some of the missing pieces.

Project organizers are asking state residents to report incidents of hate, bias or discrimination they experience or witness.

These online reports, which will remain anonymous unless a participant specifies otherwise, are not intended as official reports. Rather, they will provide a broad picture of the kinds of crimes that exist – vandalism, physical assault, threats, hate speech – and where they are occurring.

This is not an attempt to usurp the role of law enforcement in preventing hate crimes, but rather to supplement it. Because you can’t begin to address a problem until you know how large that problem is.

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