FBI zeroing in on hate crimes, other civil rights violations across metro Detroit

Posted at 3:59 PM, Mar 31, 2021

(WXYZ) — Both nationally and here in metro Detroit, the FBI is prioritizing investigations into civil rights violations. Now, in a rare interview they’re going a step further, opening up about cases being opened daily.

“Nothing like this has happened before,” said Rev. Beth Taylor of St. John's Episcopal Church in Royal Oak, referencing a hatred-filled Zoom hacking she'll never forget. "It was so real, the hatred we felt.”

Rev. Taylor says several people in a coordinated effort used hateful bigoted slurs when they crashed an online Sunday church service full of families with young children. They were dropping those disgusting remarks faster than they could be removed.

But beyond this church, there are victims in our area who have suffered even greater trauma and pain.

"We've had some nooses left in areas," said James C. Barnacle, FBI Assistant Special Agent in Charge. "And we've had some violent attacks."

Barnacle is leading the fight to stop those committing hate crimes and other civil rights violations in Michigan.

He said statistics show the African American community is most often being targeted.

“It can leave scars or physical damage people carry for the rest of their lives,” said Barnacle.

Incidents, Offenses, Victims, and Known Offenders by Bias Motivation, 2018 Data by WXYZ-TV Channel 7 Detroit on Scribd

Bias Motivation By Location, 2018 Data by WXYZ-TV Channel 7 Detroit on Scribd

In one alarming case former Hamtramck police officer Ryan McInerney is being sentenced next month after admitting to pistol whipping drivers on traffic stops, and then lying to cover his tracks.

Victims suffered broken bones and had teeth knocked out by the disgraced former cop.

“It can undermine the foundation of government, if you have law enforcement that violates civil rights,” said Barnacle.

Barnacle said since the start of the COVID pandemic, he's noticed another disturbing trend across the United States with anti-Asian bias crimes.

“It’s something we’re looking at,” he said.

Religious attacks are also a top focus.

“If you look at religious bias attacks, Jewish is the top and anti-Islamic attacks are number 2,” he said.

The FBI is also very much aware of racist posts on social media.

We recently exposed one on 7 Action News, shared by a Sterling Heights police officer joking about the death of George Floyd. That officer has since resigned.

And in Detroit’s 6th Precinct, two officers were kicked off the force in 2019 after we exposed them for a racist Snapchat post mocking a young African American womanthey forced to walk home in the cold. An internal investigation led to changes after a racist culture was discovered, fueling discrimination by some officers against the African American community.

When asked what he would say to an officer who harbors racist views and shares them on social media, Barnacle replied: “educate yourself about other people. Engage in other communities and collaborate with people of different races, sexual orientations and religions.”

While not all cases rise to the level of a federal crime, he said these ignorant acts quickly destroy public trust. It's why special agents consider this type of work more of a calling.

"They’re locked in. They’re engaged. They’re very passionate about putting folks in jail that are committing violations of federal statutes,” he said.

In the meantime, Rev. Taylor says tougher online safeguards during virtual services have been a blessing. They have allowed her members to worship without worry.

"It knocked us off our chair for a minute, but it hasn’t stopped us from praying,” she said.

The FBI in Detroit wants to hear from anyone who may know of a hate crime, or be a victim of one. You can contact them by clicking here.