Lindsey Toomer

(Colorado Newsline) With Colorado seeing a new spike in incidents of hate, Democratic state officials and other leaders gathered this week to discuss the causes of the increase and how to prevent future hate crimes.

At a roundtable discussion led by state Sen. Rhonda Fields of Aurora and Attorney General Phil Weiser in Denver, participants shared data and anecdotes about recent trends in hate crimes in Colorado. While a rise in antisemitic and Islamophobic hate has been making headlines nationwide, many other communities are being increasingly targeted, too.

Fields said while she knows tackling hate in Colorado is an ambitious goal, she couldn’t ignore the increase she has seen in her own neighborhood and wanted to take steps to do something about it. She said a goal of the roundtable was to turn data into action.

“This has been an issue that has been troubling me for the last six months, I would say, and I’ve been reaching out to different agencies to get a sense of what can we do better,” Fields said. “And I didn’t want to act like this issue that we’re going to be talking about today is invisible, because it’s not.”

Scott Levin, director of the Anti-Defamation League’s Mountain Region, which includes Colorado, New Mexico and Wyoming, said having laws in place working to prevent hate crimes sends a message countering those who commit hate crimes that Colorado values every identity and wants to protect its residents.

“When someone commits a crime that includes a hate crime, it is not just because they want to rob you or hurt you or do something,” Levin said. “They want to send a message, which is that people that look like you that pray like you love like you who have a different identity than maybe they do, that they aren’t welcome in this community.”

Jeremy Shaver, senior associate regional director of the ADL Mountain Region, said most recent data has shown that Colorado has seen a steady increase in reported hate crimes since 2015, with 2022 seeing the highest increase reported in the 30 years the Federal Bureau of Investigation has been collecting data. Hate crimes include incidents in which people are targeted for their race, ethnicity, ancestry, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability and religion.

“Hate against any group is viewed to me as hate against every group,” Weiser said. “We know we’ve got work to do with law enforcement to develop greater sensitivity, greater tools to investigate and address hate crimes.”

One idea several at the roundtable supported is creating a hotline for people who want to report a hate crime, but aren’t necessarily comfortable calling and reporting to the police. Local hotlines already exist in Aurora and Boulder, but a statewide version could help connect more victims of hate crimes to resources that can help them.

Based on data collected from different organizations at the table, somewhere between 4–18% of Coloradans who have been victims of a hate crime have reported it to law enforcement, advocates said.

The roundtable also included a presentation of data from the Colorado Bureau of Investigation. Other attendees included representatives of the American Civil Liberties Union, the Colorado Organization for Victim Assistance, law enforcement officials and state Rep. Mike Weissman, an Aurora Democrat who chairs the Colorado House Judiciary Committee.