Charlottesville Police Department adds car attack to federal hate crime data

Charlottesville Police Department adds car attack to federal hate crime data
James Alex Fields drove his Dodge Challenger into a crowd of counter-protesters as they walked in the opposite direction on the street, killing 1 woman in August 2017.

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (WWBT) - One of the most high profile hate crimes in recent memory is finally being counted in federal statistics.

Nearly two years ago in Charlotttesville, James Fields Jr. purposely plunged into a crowd, injuring dozens and killing Heather Heyer.

Even though federal prosecutors charged Fields with 29 counts of violations of the hate crimes act, that crime didn’t appear in federal hate crime data.

Charlottesville had zero hate crimes listed in the third quarter of 2017.

Charlottesville’s Police Chief RaShall Brackney said in January 2019 that she would correct the record.

She was not chief in Charlottesville in 2017, nor when the police department first reported its hate crime numbers.

However, this week, her office told us it amended a report in March to officially add Fields’ case to the federal data.

“Let’s just start with correcting the record that it will be changed," Brackney said earlier this year. “You have the ability to amend numbers all of the time based on new information, new facts and new reporting. It’s such an issue in how do you capture hate in a real and meaningful way when you’re trying to use it as a data point and that’s a challenge.”

Brackney pointed out it took the government almost a year to officially classify what Fields did as a hate crime.

“If you look at even the statute, they say the determination is based on investigation," she said. “Although there was hate, obvious hate and biased based incidents that were occurring. You have to be able to prove that.”

Brackney believes there’s a value to having good data, “but we can’t stop there. We have to do better. All of us have to do better. There has to be more to it. If we’re not willing to do the hard work to say this is where we have failed as a nation and this is how we move forward as a nation then we’re going to find ourselves just grappling with numbers again and not having any real meaningful movement from those numbers.”

Fields was sentenced to life in prison earlier this month on his state charges, the final of two separate court cases.

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