Methods

An examination of bias motivated events or hate crimes is not an easy task. While there might be agreement as to a specific definition of a bias incident or hate crime, there is substantial disagreement as to what events fit into these categories. Some incidents from 2001 in Valparaiso, for example, have evoked substantial disagreement. To some, cross burnings and swastika graffiti are simply juvenile pranks that are only incidentally racist symbols and thereby are not bias motivated. To others, these same events qualify as hate crimes.

In addition, if a consensus could be developed as to what types of events actually constitute bias motivated incidents, there still would be a problem of where to get reliable information about these events. To the best of our knowledge, there is no one agency in this area that systematically reports information about bias motivated incidents. The FBI covers hate crime incidents, but many incidents are not considered “criminal” or even serious enough to be reported to the police. Local police reports cover some bias incidents, but our impression, based on conversations with a number of persons, including police and the FBI, is that the process of reporting these events is often quite haphazard. The Southern Poverty Law Center collects data on these events at a national level, but its reports are often incomplete when it comes to reporting local events. In addition, Indiana does not currently have a hate crimes law.

The obvious question is then, how can you go about systematically gathering information about such incidents? Certainly the best solution is to rely upon a variety of sources, including FBI reports, police reports, the reports of other agencies, as well as the verified observations of individuals. In addition, we think an examination of newspaper accounts of these incidents can provide a useful source of information. While we are well aware of the numerous problems involved in relying solely on newspaper accounts, including selective and inaccurate reporting, analysis of newspaper reports has a long history as a generally acceptable method of examining particular events. It is clear that an examination of newspaper reports can be a helpful indicator of the frequency, location, and severity of such events. At the same time, all of the limitations of such a source should be kept in mind. We view this study as simply a first step in an effort to begin the systematic compilation of data about bias related incidents in this area. Future research should combine these methods with others for a more complete understanding of the extent and nature of bias related incidents in the area.

To find bias-related articles we conduct electronic searches of local newspapers. We started with the Northwest Indiana Times because initially it was the only newspaper that was available for electronic searches. Later, when the Post Tribune began allowing electronic searches we added them to our analysis. It should be noted that the Post does not allow a direct search of their paper. We search the Post though a paid subscription from News Library. This creates a problem because we are not always able to create links to access these articles as we do for the Times. The current data base then includes all articles from the Post Tribune and the Northwest Indiana Times since 1990.

More recently (2016) we added searches to the Herald Argus from LaPorte and News- Dispatch from Michigan City. Like the Post, we search the Herald Argus and News- Dispatch through a paid subscription from News Library. Both the Times and the Tribune allow searches back to 1990 as a result the data base includes bias incidents from those two papers from 1990 to the present. Access only goes back to 2000 for the Herald-Argus and 1997 for the News-Dispatch. This creates somewhat of a methodological problem in that the earlier years in the data base are drawn from two newspapers while the latter period draws from all four papers. This should be kept in mind when drawing conclusions about what is happening in the region across time.

By the way of summary, at the present time we have examined the following newspapers for reports of bias-motivated incidents in Northwest Indiana.

  1. The Times or Northwest Indiana (Munster): 1990 - present
  2. Post-Tribune (Merrillville): 1990 - present
  3. Herald Argus (LaPorte): 2000 - present
  4. News-Dispatch (Michigan City): 1997 - present

To find bias incidents, over 120 different words and/or phrases are entered into the search engines separately for each newspaper. Examples of the words and phrases include: swastika, cross burning, racially motivated, and bias. When an article is discovered containing one of these terms or phrases, it is read very carefully by at least two researchers to determine if there is enough in the article to draw the conclusion that it is a bias motivated incident. Once it is determined to be a bias incident, researchers determine what type of incident it is (swastika graffiti, cross burning, etc.), and if possible, who is the victim and who is the perpetrator. The location of the event is determined as closely as possible, and, to be considered in more detail later, the severity of the incident. Once this has been determined, the incident and the information associated with it are entered into our database and included on the bias map.