Anti-Black Hate Crimes Rise, Data Remains Flawed

The FBI yesterday released its 2008 Hate Crime Statistics report. Overall, the numbers were up slightly, by 2 percent. One of the biggest jumps was in the number of anti-black hate crimes, which went up from 2,658 in 2007 to 2,876 in 2008. That constitutes a rise of nearly 8 percent.

The jump in anti-black hate crimes is likely related to the November 2008 election of President Obama. In the weeks before and after the election, dozens of hate crimes occurred across the country, the result of a racist backlash to the election of America’s first African-American president.

Hate incidents related to the election occurred in all parts of the country. An interracial couple in Apolacan Township, Pa., who supported Obama, found the remains of a burnt cross in their garden. In Madison County, Idaho, elementary school children allegedly chanted "assassinate Obama" on a school bus. In Mount Desert Island, Maine, black effigies were reportedly hung from nooses.

Many of the election-related hate crimes were violent. For example, there were five reported attacks by white supremacists on blacks and Latinos in California’s San Jacinto Valley that police described as a reaction to the election. And on Staten Island, two 18-year-olds were among a group of men who yelled "Obama" as they assaulted a black teenager with a baseball bat just hours after Obama clinched the presidency.

One of the most widely publicized incidents involved the burning of a black church, the Macedonia Church of God in Christ, just a few hours after Obama’s win was confirmed. At the time of the burning, federal investigators called the act a probable hate crime.

But like so many hate crimes each year, the church burning never made it into the FBI’s statistics. Even though the DOJ released a statement about arrests in the Springfield case and condemned the acts as motivated by “racism,” the city of Springfield reported no hate crimes in the fourth quarter of 2008.

Unfortunately, it is not surprising that a hate crime would fail to make it into the FBI’s data. The DOJ itself has found that the hate crimes statistics drastically underreport the number of such crimes each year. A definitive 2005 study by the DOJ's Bureau of Justice Statistics, based on detailed and highly accurate National Crime Victimization Surveys, found that the real level of hate crime in America was about 191,000 incidents per year — in other words, about 20 to 30 times higher than the numbers annually reported by the FBI.