The number of hate crimes in the United States in 2017 topped a previous high, with law enforcement reporting 7,175 incidents — an uptick of 17 percent over the five-year high reached in 2016.
The latest numbers, released Tuesday morning, mark the third-worst year since the FBI began collecting hate crime data in 1992.
It also has the third-highest increases in hate crimes, both in percentage and total numbers.
The increase comes as the United States becomes more politically and socially fractured.
Brian Levin, Director of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism and a professor of criminal justice at California State University, San Bernardino, said a lack of national leadership on the issue of hate crimes appears to be a factor in the increase.
Presidents from Ronald Reagan in the 1980s through Barack Obama would take public stands against hate crimes. President Donald Trump, who said there were “good people on both sides” of the violence at “Unite the Right” in Charlottesville, Virginia last August, hasn’t done so, Levin said.
“There is a line that wouldn’t be crossed with regards to over-the-top bigotry, which apparently no longer exists,” Levin told the Southern Poverty Law Center.
The 17 percent increase trails only a 34 percent increase in hate crimes from 1994 to 1995 and a 20.7 percent increase from 2000 to 2001.
The increase comes despite law enforcement agencies across the country either underreporting or not reporting hate crimes.
Among the places where no hate crimes were reported included Portland, Oregon, where Ricky John Best and Taliesin Myrddin Namkai-Meche were stabbed and killed May 26. Jeremy Joseph Christian, a self-proclaimed white supremacist, is charged with aggravated murder in the Oregon case. Charlottesville, Virginia, reported just one hate crime, despite multiple federal hate crimes charges being filed against James Alex Fields, Jr., in the death of 32-year-old Heather Heyer during the deadly Unite the Right rally on August 12, 2017.
[Correction: This story has been updated to reflect that Charlottesville, Virginia, reported one hate crime in 2017. The incident reported happened on November 14, 2017, and involved a fight among multiple people, said Charlottesville Police Sgt. William Newberry. Two white men were charged with assault for attacking a pair of black men after shouting “fuck you, nigger,” Newberry said.]
“That is a development that is really troubling,” Levin said. “Those are examples of the worst kinds of homicide that do not appear to be in the data. We have again a continuing problem with police agencies not meaningfully participating.”
The increase further confirms the explosion of bias incidents the Southern Poverty Law Center and other civil rights organizations and journalists have documented that jumped after the 2016 election and have continued during the Trump presidency.
“While everybody should be horrified by these jaw-dropping statistics, these numbers still fail to paint a complete picture of the enormity of the problem,” said Sikh Coalition Legal Director Amrith Kaur.
All 49 states that report hate crimes (Hawaii does not participate in the data gathering) had jurisdictions not reporting any hate crimes in 2017, accounting for 87.4 percent of all agencies taking part in the Hate Crime Statistics Program.
More than 300 jurisdictions representing populations of at least 50,000 people reported zero hate crimes in 2017.
Some smaller jurisdictions, such as University City, Missouri, where vandals toppled tombstones in a Jewish cemetery in February 2017, didn’t take part in the reporting at all.
The FBI reported 7,106 single-bias incidents involving 8,493 victims. Just more than 59 percent of those victims were targeted because of their race, ethnicity or ancestry; another 20.6 percent were targeted because of the offenders’ religious bias; 15.8 percent were chosen because of the offenders’ sexual-orientation bias; 1.9 percent were victimized because of the offenders’ disability bias; 1.6 percent were targeted because of the offenders’ gender-identity bias; and 0.6 percent were victimized because of the offenders’ gender bias.
Multiple-bias hate crimes involved 335 victims in 69 incidents.
Of the religious belief-based crimes, 58.1 percent of victims were targeted because they were Jewish. That’s 938 incidents involving 1,749 victims in 2017. The jump to 938 incidents from 684 in 2016 marks an increase of 37 percent.
That marked the biggest jump in religious-bias crimes in 2017.
The majority of known offenders — 50.7 percent — were white, while 21.3 percent were African American.
The race of 19.1 percent of offenders was unknown, with the rest being made up of small percentages of American Indian, Alaska Native, Asian or multiple-race offenders.
“The Department of Justice’s top priority is to reduce violent crime in America, and hate crimes are violent crimes. They are also despicable violations of our core values as Americans,” Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker said in a statement.
The Arab American Institute’s Executive Director Maya Berry called the numbers disappointing.
“The FBI data confirms the reality we all know: hate is increasing in America,” Berry said. “The FBI data, in what is missing from it, also demonstrates the hate crime reporting system we have in place is falling to respond adequately to hate crime, and thus inform fully the policy remedies we must make to improve our response to hate.”
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