Each year, the Federal Bureau of Investigation releases its official report on Hate Crimes in the U.S. First, a little background — hate crimes are defined as a criminal offense committed against a person or property, which is motivated, in whole or in part, by bias against the victim’s actual or perceived race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, or disability, and that is formally reported to law enforcement. This definition is important in many ways, as I explain a little later.
- The number of hate crimes committed against Asian Americans and Pacific Islander Americans declined from 188 incidents and 219 offenses in 2007, to 137 incidents and 162 offenses in 2008.
- Similarly, the number of hate crimes committed against Hispanic Americans declined from 595 incidents and 775 offenses in 2007, to 561 incidents and 735 offenses in 2008.
- The number of hate crimes committed against Muslim Americans also declined, from 115 incidents and 133 offenses in 2007, to 105 incidents and 123 offenses in 2008.
These are positive signs of progress and we should acknowledge them as such. Unfortunately there appears to be at least an equal number of bad news as well:
- In total, the number of reported hate crimes are at their highest level since 2001. In 2008, there were 7,783 hate crime incidents and 9,168 hate crime offenses reported, an increase from 7,624 and 9,006 reported in 2007, respectively.
- The number of hate crime crimes directed at Blacks increased from 2,658 incidents and 3,275 offenses in 2007, to 2,876 incidents and 3,413 offenses in 2008. Such anti-Black hate crimes are at their highest levels since 2001 and are pretty clear evidence that despite Barack Obama’s election, racism against Blacks is still alive and well in America.
- Hate crimes based on sexual orientation are also at their highest level since 2001, increasing from 1,265 incidents and 1,460 offenses in 2007, to 1,297 and 1,617 in 2008, respectively.
- Aside from the decline in anti-Muslim hate crimes, there was an overall increase in the number of hate crimes based on religious bias in general. For example, the number of hate incidents and offenses committed against Jewish Americans increased from 969 and 1,010 in 2007, to 1,013 and 1,055 in 2008, respectively.
To further put these hate crime numbers in perspective, we should note the specifics related to how they were collected. Specifically, as in years past, the vast majority of the law enforcement agencies who participated in the data collection (84.4% to be exact) reported absolutely zero hate crimes — that there were no hate crime incidents in their particular jurisdiction.
In addition, thousands of police agencies across the nation did not participate in the hate crime data collection program at all, including at least five agencies in cities with a popular of over 250,000 and at least eleven agencies in cities with populations between 100,000 and 250,000.
Many of these jurisdictions who did not participate or who reported zero hate crimes include areas in the South. I’m sorry, but I have a hard time accepting that there was only one (1) hate crime committed in the state of Mississippi, just two (2) in Georgia, and just four (4) in Alabama in 2008.
On top of this uneven and inconsistent participation and reporting on the part of police agencies, we should also note that, as sociological and criminological studies consistently point out, the majority of hate crime incidents are never reported to police at all — their victims stay silent. This is particularly true with many immigrant groups and communities of color, including Asian Americans.
That is, many victims may not be fluent in English and therefore feel that it is futile to report it to the police. They may also feel that the police would be unlikely to take their reports seriously for lack of cultural competency, or they may distrust the police entirely based on previous negative experiences with police in their area, or with corrupt police and government agencies back in their home country. Also, many victims may simply fear retaliation from the offenders if they report the incidents to police.
As you can see, the “official” data should be taken with a big grain of salt and almost surely represent an undercount — maybe even a significant one — of the real number of hate crimes committed in 2008. Unfortunately, in the quest for racial/ethnic/religious/sexual equality, American society still seems to be taking two steps forward, and two steps back.