Hate Crimes in the U.S., What do the Numbers Show?

By: Margaret Potter, Staff Writer


In recent news, it seems as if every day there have been incidents of hate crimes reported throughout the nation from mailed pipe bombs to various people of political power, to the shooting of two black people in a grocery store in Kentucky, and to the killing of eleven people in a synagogue in Pittsburgh. These frequent incidents of hate cause one to question if the overwhelming political division in the United States present today has influenced these perpetrated crimes.

In 1990, Congress passed 28 U.S.C. §534 known as the Hate Crimes Statistics Act which called for the Attorney General to collect data regarding crimes motivated by race, religion, sexual orientation, or ethnicity. Since 1990, the Attorney General has delegated this task of data collection to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). The FBI established the Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Program which relies on cooperation with local and state law enforcement agencies to provide hate crime data annually to the FBI. [1] For collecting data under the UCR Program, the FBI defines a hate crime as a “criminal offense against a person or property motivated in whole or in part by an offender’s bias against a race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, ethnicity, gender, or gender identity”.[2] The FBI recognizes that hate itself is not a crime in an attempt to protect freedom of speech and other civil liberties. [3]

The FBI provided the following statistics after the election of President Barack Obama in 2008;

  • There was a 21% increase in reported hate crimes with a total of 9,160 hate crimes reported to the FBI.[4]
  • Among the hate crimes reported, 4,704 were motivated by racial bias with 72.6% of those racially motivated hate crimes being anti-Black bias.[5]
  • Among the hate crimes reported in 2008 were 1,606 incidents of religious bias with 65.7% of religiously motivated crimes being anti-Semitic.[6]

The FBI provided the following statistics in 2016 following the election of President Donald Trump;

  • There were 7,321 hate crimes reported to the FBI.[7]
  • Among the hate crimes reported, 4,229 were racially motivated with 50.2% motivated by anti-Black bias and 1,538 offenses being religiously motivated with 54.2% motivated by anti-Semitic bias.[8]

Based on this data, the hate crimes reported in the year President Obama was elected were higher than those reported in the year President Trump was elected. However, following 2008 during President Obama’s administration the reported incidents of hate crime decreased until 2016 when a new administration took office.[9] During President Trump’s administration the FBI has reported that in 2017, one year into President Trump’s term, that hate crimes have risen 4.6%. [10]

On the other hand, civil rights groups argue that incidents of hate crimes in the U.S. are much greater than what the FBI reports.[11] According to these groups, the FBI’s process for obtaining data on hate crimes is flawed resulting in annual reports largely downplaying the issue of hate crimes in the U.S.[12] The FBI relies on local and state law enforcement agencies to voluntarily report data on hate crimes committed annually, and these agencies are responsible for determining whether the incident in question satisfies the federal government’s definition of a hate crime.[13] Even if these agencies label an incident as satisfying the definition for a hate crime this does not necessarily mean that the crime in question was tried or charged as a hate crime, and the FBI does not identify this distinction.[14] State and local law enforcement agencies are not obligated to report, and only do so voluntarily which can lead to underreporting.[15] For example, in 2016 fewer then 30% of law enforcement agencies submitted data in California and only 1% of agencies in Arkansas, Pennsylvania, and New Mexico reported.[16] On the other hand, there is Hawaii, who has never reported hate crime data to the FBI.[17] Even when states report data it’s not necessarily reliable, for example in 2016 more than 80 U.S. cities with more than 100,000 residents either reported no hate crimes or did not even respond to the FBI’s data request.[18] Not only are there issues with law enforcement agencies reporting hate crimes, there is a lack of reporting among victims in marginalized communities such as transgender, disabled, homeless, and immigrants who feel too intimidated to come forward.[19] These factors of either underreporting, lack of reporting, or labeling hate crimes that weren’t charges as such lead to the belief that the statistics reported by the FBI annually are skewed.

The Justice Department relies on the statistics reported by the FBI to determine their response to hate crimes in the U.S. If the information the department is receiving is skewed, this could result in lack of recognition for an incredibly prevalent issue. Other agencies have taken it upon themselves to collect their own data to formulate reports on hate crimes. For example, the Anti-Defamation League is reporting that in 2017 anti-Semitic incidents have increased 57%, which is the largest spike since 1979.[20] Civil rights groups argue that to combat ineffective responses to hate crimes as result of skewed reporting, the Justice Department and the FBI must adopt mandatory hate crime reporting.[21]


























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