State leaders discuss the rise in hate crimes, many of which go unreported, in Colorado

Tony Gorman/CPR News
CO AG Phil Weiser (L) and State Senator Rhonda Fields (C) discuss the uptick in hate crimes in Colorado with various groups and agencies, Dec. 6, 2023.

One by one, leaders from various organizations and law enforcement agencies told stories about their first experience with a hate crime. For some, it happened when they were young and in school. For some others, they were lucky enough to avoid the experience until adulthood. The motivations ranged from race to religion to sexual orientation.

The stories were part of a discussion at the state capitol on Wednesday led by Aurora State Senator Rhonda Fields and Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser about a jump in hate crimes in the state. The Anti-Defamation League, Colorado Bureau of Investigations, Arapahoe County Sheriff’s Department, Aurora Police Department, and other advocacy groups were in attendance.

“It's become a sense of where people don't feel safe in their community,” Fields said. “So this whole idea was just to bring people to the table, to look at the data and come up with some ways in reference to what we can do to reduce crime in our city and in our state.”

Hate crimes have steadily risen over the last five years, according to a study released by the FBI in October 2022. In 2022, 403 hate crimes were reported in Colorado. That was a 14 percent increase from the 2021. Most of those crimes were motivated by race, ethnicity, and ancestry bias. 

“The trafficking in hate is on the upswing and the risk of violence is clearly something that requires a level of seriousness that we need to meet,” Weiser said. “We recognize that hate crimes are underreported. Hate crimes are often experienced by communities who are afraid to report them. And that we know we've got work to do with law enforcement to develop greater sensitivity, greater tools to investigate and address hate crimes.”

As for religious bias, Colorado has seen a string of anti-Semitic activity in recent years. Scott Levin, Regional Director of the Mountain States Region of the ADL said there have been more since the October 7 Hamas attack on Israel. 

“Here in our community, we are seeing in our office a rise of about 400 percent the amount of contacts that we're getting on a daily basis from people who are either the targets of hate or have witnessed hate,” Levin said. “That's gone on across the country as well as here in Denver, Colorado. We're seeing an increase of over 300 percent of anti-Semitic incidents that are taking place.” 

While most of the statistics are for reported hate crimes, many of them go unreported. A Hate Free Colorado survey found that 18 percent of those who experienced hate crimes don’t report them. And only 29 percent of people reported to anyone at all. It’s an issue that bothers Fields.

“There has to be a psychology around that. It might be the fatigue. ‘Are they going to believe me?’ or ‘Should I just accept it?’” Fields said. “I think we all grew up with this saying, sticks, and stones may break my bones, and you might think that you just need to just kind of suck it up. But what is happening in our young people is that those words are hurtful.”

Senator Fields plans to have more group discussions on the issue at a later date.