The FBI Jacksonville is among law enforcement agencies encourating the public to report hate crimes. l Steven Ponson, WJCT 89.9The FBI Jacksonville is among law enforcement agencies encourating the public to report hate crimes. l Steven Ponson, WJCT 89.9

Law enforcement renews push against hate crimes

Published on December 1, 2023 at 1:39 pm

Law enforcement agencies are renewing efforts to get the public to report hate crimes, as incidents increase nationwide and the Israel-Hamas war sparks tensions.

Sherri Onks, special agent in charge at the FBI Jacksonville, said Jacksonville is seeing fewer hate crime threats than larger cities, but it still takes only one incident to shake the community, she said.

Jacksonville Today thanks our sponsors. Become one.

“No one should be afraid to walk down the street. No one should be concerned that they can be targeted in an act of violence because of how they look, where they’re from, or any other part of their identity,” Onks said.

The new campaign comes months after the highest profile hate crime in recent memory in Jacksonville, where a gunman killed three Black people at a Dollar General Store in the New Town community in August.

Onks said the campaign will consist of posters at several places including schools, houses of worship, billboards and more. Community outreach also will be involved.

Article continues below
Jacksonville Today thanks our sponsors. Become one.
The FBI Jacksonville is making a push to get the public to report hate crimes. This poster is one of the images that is used in the campaign l FBI Jacksonville

The total number of hate crimes in the U.S. rose from 7,036 in 2018 to 11,634 in 2022 — a 60% increase, the FBI says. Most of the incidents last year — 59% — were motivated by race. Crimes based on religion and sexual orientation made up 17% of incidents. 

In Florida, hate crimes rose nearly 10% from 2018 to 2022, the FBI reported. A total of 155 incidents were reported in Florida in 2022, up from 141 in 2018. More incidents in Florida were motivated by religion and sexual orientation compared with national averages: 25% sexual orientation, 23% religion and 41% race. 

Onks said the actual number of hate crimes is probably higher than the data indicates, since many go unreported. Reasons include fear of retaliation from an attacker, embarrassment or fear of the government.  

“Our goal is to protect all people, all Americans, so today we are encouraging potential victims of hate crime to seek help, and we want to ensure that you know where to go,” Onks said.

Nassau County Sheriff Bill Leeper speaks Thursday, Nov. 30, 2023, about a campaign to get the public to report hate crimes l FBI Jacksonville

Nassau County Sheriff Bill Leeper said that if police officers build relationships within the community, that can go a long way in getting people to report hate crimes.

“Hate crimes threaten everybody who worships, looks, speaks or shares the same beliefs as the victims, and if the bias against these groups is not condemned by law enforcement, distrust and resentment thrive in the victim’s communities, undermining efforts to maintain peace and security,” Leeper said.

The FBI has developed a new hate crime threat response guide that can help people understand whether they have been victims. 

You can also report hate crimes by calling 1-800-call-FBI (1-800-225-5324) or online at tips.fbi.gov.

If it’s an emergency, call 911.


author image Reporter, WJCT News 89.9 Steven Ponson has six years of experience covering news in Jacksonville and Northeast Florida. Prior to arriving on the First Coast, Steven also worked in radio in Orlando. He attended the University of Central Florida where he earned a degree in radio and television. Steven has been a reporter, producer, anchor and board operator. Outside of work, Steven loves to watch sports, cook delicious cajun food (as any good Louisiana native does) and spend time outdoors.
author image Reporter, WJCT News 89.9 Steven Ponson has six years of experience covering news in Jacksonville and Northeast Florida. Prior to arriving on the First Coast, Steven also worked in radio in Orlando. He attended the University of Central Florida where he earned a degree in radio and television. Steven has been a reporter, producer, anchor and board operator. Outside of work, Steven loves to watch sports, cook delicious cajun food (as any good Louisiana native does) and spend time outdoors.