U.S. Hate Crimes Ticked Upward in 2016

The latest FBI stats show a 4.6 percent rise, but crimes may be underreported by a factor of 50

hate crime
A makeshift shrine to Timothy Caughman, a black 66-year-old man who was fatally stabbed by James Harris Jackson, a white 28-year-old who reportedly traveled to New York with the intention of killing black men, on March 20th, 2017. The memorial was seen on the sidewalk at the Southeast corner of West 36th Street near to where Caughman resided and was slain. (Photo by Albin Lohr-Jones) Sipa USA via AP

Today the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting Program released its 2016 hate crime statistics for the United States, which reported a 4.6 percent increase in reported crimes motivated by race, gender, religion, sexual orientation or disability.

Mark Berman at The Washington Post writes that the total number of reported hate crimes jumped from 5,850 in 2015 to 6,121 in 2016 based on data from 16,000 law enforcement agencies. This is the second year in a row that the number has increased. Several categories saw increases, such as religion-based crimes as well as hate crimes targeting a person's sexual orientation. Race, however, remains the largest the motivator, with 57.5 percent of the single-bias crimes; 21.0 percent of the crimes were motivated by religion and sexual orientation accounting for 17.7 percent. Crimes against property made up 34.4 percent of the reported hate crimes, while crimes against individuals made up the other 64.5 percent, which included intimidation, assault, rape and nine murders.

“It’s deeply disturbing to see hate crimes increase for the second year in a row,” Jonathan A. Greenblatt, CEO of the Anti-Defamation League, says in a statement. “Hate crimes demand priority attention because of their special impact. They not only hurt one victim, but they also intimidate and isolate a victim’s whole community and weaken the bonds of our society.”

While the uptick is concerning, many observers think that the data is not accurate, and that the incidence of hate crimes in the U.S. is much higher than the data suggests. Ryan Lucas at NPR reports that many cities underreport hate crimes, with Greenblatt pointing out that 90 cities in the U.S. with populations over 100,000 reported zero hate crimes or did not report any data. “There’s a dangerous disconnect between the rising problem of hate crimes and the lack of credible data being reported,” Greenblatt says.

Sim J. Singh, of the Sikh Coalition, tells Lucas the FBI data only counts 7 crimes against Sikhs, which he says is just a fraction of incidents that occurred. “If law-enforcement agencies fail to document the true extent of hate crimes against our communities our nation will have a hard time mobilizing the political will and resources necessary to prevent and combat the problem,” he says.

Lopez reports that between 2007 and 2011, the Justice Department conducted surveys trying to get a handle on the true number of hate crimes occurring in the U.S. They found almost 260,000 nonfatal hate crimes occur annually, meaning the FBI report’s average of 6,000 to 10,000 is off by orders of magnitude.

Hailey Middlebrook at CNN reports there are many reasons for this. Many states and cities do not have hate crime laws. For an incident to be considered a hate crime in these areas, it would have to be prosecuted on the federal level. In some areas with hate crime laws, arresting officers or prosecutors choose to ignore elements that would classify an incident as a hate crime.

The Feds are aware of the problem—in 2014 then head of the FBI James Comey gave a speech to the Anti-Defamation League saying:

“We need to do a better job of tracking and reporting hate crime to fully understand what is happening in our communities and how to stop it. There are jurisdictions that fail to report hate crime statistics. Other jurisdictions claim there were no hate crimes in their community, a fact that would be welcome if true. We must continue to impress upon our state and local counterparts in every jurisdiction the need to track and report hate crime. It is not something we can ignore or sweep under the rug.”