The recent killing of three Black people in Jacksonville, Florida, has drawn attention to a grim reality that researchers have long documented: Black Americans are the most frequent victims of racially motivated hate crimes in the United States.
A new report released Tuesday confirms the trend, showing that Black people were the targets of more than one-fifth of all hate crimes reported in major U.S. cities last year, the highest share of any group.
The report, based on police data analyzed by the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University San Bernardino, found that hate crimes targeting Black people fell by an average of 6% last year, after surging in the previous two years.
But the trend was not uniform across the country, and many cities and states reported their worst numbers ever.
Out of 42 cities surveyed by the center, more than half showed an increase in anti-Black hate crimes, with some reaching historic highs. New York City, Los Angeles, Austin, Texas, and Sacramento, California, all set modern records.
Five states — Colorado, New Jersey, Ohio, Texas and Utah — also broke their records for anti-Black hate crimes, while incidents in California and New York state — both with large Black populations — surged by more than 20%, according to the report.
Historically, African Americans have been the most frequent victims of hate crimes in the U.S., and that did not change last year.
The report found they were the targets of 22% of all hate crimes in 2022, the highest share of any group. In 2021, the share was as high as 31%.
Jews came in second last year, with 16% of all hate incidents, followed by gay men, with 12%, and white people, with 8.5%, according to the report.
Overall, hate crimes reported to police in the 42 U.S. cities rose 10% in 2022. That's on top of a nationwide increase of nearly 31% seen in 2021.
Frequent targets of hate crime
The report comes just days after a white gunman killed two Black men and a Black woman at a Florida variety store in a hate-fueled rampage.
The 21-year-old shooter, who took his own life after the killings, left behind a racist screed in which he expressed hatred for Black people. One firearm he used in the attack had swastikas drawn on it.
"Blacks remain the most frequent target not only for these extremist killers but have been the most frequent target for overall hate crime for every year since data has been collected, right up through our partial 2023 totals," said Brian Levin, director of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism and the lead author of the report.
The FBI, which has been collecting hate crime data since 1991, said it was investigating the Jacksonville shooting as an anti-Black hate crime.
"From everything we know now, this was a targeted attack — a hate crime that was racially motivated," FBI Director Christopher Wray said Monday during a call with civil rights leaders and law enforcement officials.
The shooting was not the first of its kind in Jacksonville this year.
In May, three white men were charged in connection with the shooting death of a 39-year-old Black man in downtown Jacksonville.
Levin said the vast majority of racially motivated homicides over the past five years have been carried out by white supremacists and right-wing ideologues.
The cycle is being repeated this year, he said.
"We expect this killing cycle to continue, especially as we enter a volatile election season," Levin said. "These atrocities are often carried out by angry young adult males who make recent weapon acquisitions, act within their home state, and who reference the 'replacement' doctrine statements of previous killers."
The replacement theory, which asserts that non-white immigrants are being brought into the U.S. to "replace" white people, inspired a white gunman to shoot and kill 10 Black people in May 2022 at a supermarket in Buffalo, New York.
While the total number of extremist-motivated homicides fell last year, the figures "ignore the numerous plots and thwarted attacks which unfortunately could have driven the death count substantially higher," Levin said.
He attributed the surge in hate crimes to several factors, including the proliferation of online and political rhetoric that promotes bigotry, stereotypes and conspiracy theories.
"The ubiquity and seepage of hateful rhetoric of various depths now in the mainstream of sociopolitical discourse demonizes whole groups of people and creates a deep well," Levin said.