On May 14, 2022, an 18-year-old white supremacist drove over 200 miles to Buffalo and murdered 10 Black people, injuring three others, at a supermarket. The young man had come to believe the false conspiracy theory that Jewish people and liberal politicians are leading a covert plot to replace the political power and culture of white populations in Western nations with immigrants of color.
The act of terror was one of 11,643 hate crime incidents documented in the FBI’s new hate crime report, covering bias crimes committed in 2022.
The number is the highest the FBI has ever recorded and 7% higher than in 2021, previously the highest. The vast majority of hate crimes are not committed by members of organized hate groups. But in each case, there is a victim of violence, intimidation or vandalism – targeted for no other reason than their race, religion, national origin, disability, gender, gender identity or sexual orientation.
And in the aftermath of each one is a community terrorized, intimidated and made suspicious of others.
The latest report is deeply alarming.
Not only did the FBI compile the highest number of bias incidents, the data is based on reports from just 14,660 law enforcement agencies out of more than 18,800 agencies nationwide. This represents the lowest number of participating agencies since 2012 and is the fifth straight year of decline in police participation. Further, 79% of all participating agencies – including dozens in cities with populations of 100,000 or more – affirmatively reported zero hate crimes.
Race-based crimes were most numerous – as they have been every year since 1991. The report documents:
- 6,570 reported race-based crimes – the highest number ever recorded. Of those, 3,424 targeted Black people.
- 525 crimes directed against people and property in Asian American and Pacific Islander communities – the second-highest number since 1991.
- 738 anti-Hispanic hate crimes, the highest number ever reported.
Religion-based crimes were the second-highest category.
- 2,044 crimes were directed at people because of their religion – the highest number of religion-based crimes ever reported.
- 1,124 were directed at Jewish people or institutions – the highest number of anti-Jewish crimes since 1993.
Sexual orientation was the third-highest category, with 1,947 hate crimes – the highest number of sexual orientation-based crimes ever reported.
Additionally, 469 hate crimes were directed against people and property on the basis of their gender identity – by far the highest reported since the FBI began collecting this specific data in 2013.
Flawed reporting system
Though deeply disturbing, we know from U.S. Department of Justice surveys that these statistics are just the tip of the iceberg. A 2021 U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics study, conducted independently of the FBI reports, estimates that almost 250,000 hate crimes occurred each year between 2005 and 2019.
From its inception more than 30 years ago, the FBI’s hate crime report has always been incomplete – with inconsistent reporting and significant gaps in reporting from numerous large jurisdictions. Still, it shows important trends, and it has sparked many improvements in the way police departments address hate crimes – because in order to report hate crime data, agencies must also train their officers on how to identify and respond to bias-motivated violence.
One reason for the flawed report is that law enforcement agencies are not required under the law to report hate crime data to the FBI. In addition, many crimes are simply never reported to police. And, though 46 states and the District of Columbia have hate crime laws, the laws vary widely.
It is impossible to effectively combat hate crimes without accurate data. After more than 30 years of flawed and incomplete reporting to the FBI, the Southern Poverty Law Center supports mandatory hate crime reporting. Until this legislation can be enacted, the U.S. Department of Justice should condition federal funds on credible hate crime reporting by local and state agencies.
Studies show that more comprehensive reporting can deter hate violence, because better data will assist in proper allocation of police resources and personnel – preventing crimes and reassuring victims.
It can also advance police-community relations.
Improved data collection will require outreach and expanded networking and communication with targeted communities, as well as more training for law enforcement personnel in how to identify, report and respond to hate violence. If marginalized or targeted community members – including immigrants, people with disabilities, LGBTQ+ community members, Muslims, Arabs, Middle Easterners, South Asians and people with limited language proficiency – cannot report hate crimes, or do not feel safe reporting, law enforcement cannot effectively address them, thereby jeopardizing the safety of all.
The International Association of Chiefs of Police has long recognized the importance of effective response to hate violence. Its March 2021 Model Hate Crime Policy promotes mandatory reporting to the FBI as a best practice. The National Policing Institute’s Open Data Initiative demonstrated conclusively the police-community relations benefits of credible, real-time open hate crime data.
Clearly, government action and empowered communities are needed to address the threat. The ultimate goal, of course, is prevention.
Late last year, the SPLC offered detailed policy recommendations for the Biden administration and Congress to improve hate crime reporting and enforcement, expand community-based prevention initiatives, improve the government’s response to domestic terrorism, promote online safety, and hold tech and social media companies accountable for providing platforms where hate and extremism can thrive.
The SPLC also has designated October as Hate Crimes Awareness Month and will conduct an annual campaign to alert the public, advocates, policymakers and politicians to the problem and press for action to prevent hate crimes.
It is impossible to overstate the importance of elected officials, business and community leaders, civic and faith leaders, military commanders and law enforcement executives using their public platforms to condemn hate, racism, antisemitism, Islamophobia, attacks on democratic institutions, and extremism.
It is especially important that politicians, civic leaders and law enforcement officials repudiate dangerous and false conspiracy theories like the “great replacement” theory, which has now moved from far-right spaces into the political mainstream and inspired many extremists to commit violent attacks. Despite its clearly violent implications, far too many politicians and pundits now repeat the myth regularly.
We should expect better. We should all work to eradicate prejudice and hate and hold people in power accountable for stoking fear, racism and resentment against targeted groups – or for allowing their platforms to be exploited by extremists.
Photo at top: In a photo from May 15, 2022, FBI agents gather near the Tops supermarket in Buffalo, New York, the day after a man fatally shot 10 Black people in a racially motivated rampage. (Credit: Usman Khan/AFP via Getty Images)