WASHINGTON - The number of hate crimes reported in the United States jumped by 17 percent last year, the largest increase since 2001 when the terrorist hijackings on 9/11 fueled a surge in attacks on Americans of Muslim and Arab ancestry.
U.S. law enforcement agencies reported a total of 7,175 hate crimes in 2017, up from 6,121 in 2016 and the third consecutive annual increase, the FBI said in its annual hate crime report released on Tuesday. More than 60 percent of the incidents were designated as crimes against persons such as assault and intimidation.
The victims represented a cross section of society, with African-Americans and Jews the most frequently targeted victims. Of 34 bias motivation categories tracked by the FBI, all but five reported an increase.
The report came two weeks after a gunman killed 11 people at a synagogue in Pittsburgh, leading civil rights advocates to slam the Trump administration for failing to do more to stem the rising tide of hate crime.
President Donald Trump condemned the mass shooting, saying it exposed “the hate in our country” and calling for a stiffening of death penalty laws.
In a statement, Acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker called the report “a call to action” and vowed that “we will heed that call.”
"I am particularly troubled by the increase in anti-Semitic hate crimes, which were already the most common religious hate crimes in the United States, that is well documented in this report,” Whitaker said. “The American people can be assured that this Department has already taken significant and aggressive actions against these crimes and that we will vigorously and effectively defend their rights."
The FBI defines a hate crime as a “criminal offense against a person or property motivated in whole or in part by an offender’s bias against a race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, ethnicity, gender or gender identity.”
The vast majority of hate crimes in the United States are prosecuted in state courts, with federal prosecutors typically charging between one and two dozen defendants for hate crimes per year under various federal hate crime statutes. In 2018, the Justice Department filed 22 hate crime cases, according to a spokeswoman.
Race and religion remained the two biggest drivers of hate crimes in 2017.
There were 4,832 incidents motivated by race, ethnicity or ancestry, an increase of 18 percent from 2016 and accounting for 58 percent of all hate crimes last year. Nearly half of all racially motivated incidents involved African-Americans. Anti-Hispanic bias accounted for nearly 11 percent of the incidents. Anti-Arab hate crimes, though representative of a small fraction of the overall number, increased by 100 percent.
Religion-based hate crimes jumped 23 percent, to 1,564 incidents, the second-highest number on record. There were more than 900 attacks on Jews, accounting for nearly 60 percent of all religion-based hate incidents. Anti-Muslim hate crimes fell by 13 percent, to 273, but still accounted for almost 20 percent of the religion-based incidents and remained well above historic averages. Anti-Sikh hate crimes more than tripled, to 20 incidents.
“This report provides further evidence that more must be done to address the divisive climate of hate in America,” said Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO and national director of the Anti-Defamation League. “That begins with leaders from all walks of life and from all sectors of society forcefully condemning anti-Semitism, bigotry and hate whenever it occurs.”
Brian Levin, director of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University, said the increase in anti-Semitic attacks was “mirrored by increases not only in some large jurisdictions, but also a big spike in anti-Semitic rhetoric on the web.”
Levin added that preliminary police data collected by his center show that hate crimes are up in many cities such as New York and Los Angeles this year after a precipitous decline during the first quarter of 2018.
The FBI report is based on data provided voluntarily by law enforcement agencies, leaving it susceptible to gaps in reporting. Last year, more than 16,000 law enforcement agencies took part in the data collection, yet only 2,000 agencies actually reported hate crimes. Greenblatt noted that at least 92 cities with populations of over 100,000 people “affirmatively reported zero hate crimes.”
The Arab American Institute (AAI) said its analysis of the data showed discrepancies with state data. For example, the Kentucky State Police reported 41 gender-motivated hate crimes, while the FBI report showed 46 such incidents in the whole country, the institute said.
The FBI report also left out three of “the most horrific acts of bias-motivated violence” reported last year, including the August 12 killing of Heather Heyer at a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia; the fatal stabbing of two men who tried to confront a man shouting racial slurs a hijab-wearing woman and her friend on a train in Portland; and the shooting of two Indian men in Olathe, Kansas.
“The FBI data, in what is missing from it, also demonstrates the hate crime reporting system we have in place is failing to respond adequately to hate crime, and thus inform fully the policy remedies we must make to improve our response to hate,” Maya Berry, AAI's executive director, said.