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In the wake of the Charlottesville tragedy and other events that have transpired this year, public conversation seems to be growing about which actions constitute hate crimes, how these should be tracked, and, most importantly, what can be done to stop them. To help get a clear picture of where hate crimes are being reported, we took a look at the FBI’s Hate Crime Statistics Program for 2010-2015, and put it on PolicyMap. This data is categorized by the following specific biases: race/ethnicity/ancestry, religion, sexual orientation, disability, and gender/gender identity.
In 2015, of the 5,850 hate crimes reported across the nation, 57% were racially motivated, 21% were motivated by religion, 18% were motivated by sexual orientation, 1.3% were motivated by perceived disability status, and 0.5% were motivated by multiple biases. The map below shows total hate crimes per 100,000 people in 2015.
What constitutes a hate crime exactly, and how do they get tracked? Essentially, any crime (murder, assault, vandalism, etc.) becomes a hate crime when there is an added motivation of bias. Victims can be individuals (adults or juveniles), businesses, institutions, or society as a whole. The FBI started investigating hate crimes as far back as World War I, but it was not until the passage of the Civil Rights Act in 1964 that investigations of bias crimes became treated as a federal rather than a local function. It was the 1964 murder of three civil rights workers in Neshoba County, Mississippi (widely referred to as the “Mississippi Burning” case), that became the impetus for the FBI taking a more central role in the protection of the rights of African Americans. After state prosecutors refused to try the case, the FBI undertook a federal investigation that resulted in the arrest of 18 men and the sentencing of 7 of them .
While hate crimes have been investigated since then, it was Congress’s passage of the Hate Crime Statistics Act in 1990 that ultimately required the Attorney General to start collecting data about “crimes that manifest evidence of prejudice.” Rooted in the notion that hate crimes are not distinct crimes unto themselves, but rather are traditional crimes motivated by bias, the Attorney General and FBI ultimately decided to make the collection of hate crime statistics part of the FBI’s existing Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) initiative. Participation in the Hate Crime Statistics Program is now fairly high; in 2015, there were a total of 14,997 participating law enforcement agencies, which collectively represent around 88% of the population. However, just under 12% of these participating agencies reported any bias-motivated crimes occurring within their jurisdiction.
While Congress’s original classification of hate crime was based on evidence of bias related to race, religion, sexual orientation, or ethnicity, these classic definitions have since expanded. The additional amendments to the Act have included:
• A 1994 amendment adding biases against people with physical and mental disabilities (which began being collected in 1997).
• A 2009 amendment adding biases against people based on gender or gender identity and expanding the sexual orientation bias types (which began being collected in 2013).
• A 2013 amendment adding more religion bias types (such as Anti-Buddhist and anti-Mormon), as well an Anti-Arab ethnicity bias category (which began being collected in 2015).
So, what does the data show? Let’s take a look at the state of Ohio, a state that has been getting attention for having a high number of hate crimes. The map below shows how Ohio has among the highest number of reported race-based crimes in the country. In 2015, Ohio was one of just two states (along with California) reporting more than 300 race, ethnicity or ancestry-biased hate crimes.
Much of this data should be taken with a grain of salt. The first thing to note is that the data represents hate crimes that were reported and processed as such, which is likely far less than all bias-motivated crimes actually occurring. It is also important to note that hate crime laws and the degree to which they are enforced vary significantly among states and among jurisdictions within states. For example, as the Movement Advancement Project documents and maps on their website, four states still do not have state hate crime laws and 16 still do not include gender or sexual orientation biases in their state hate crime laws. Since local law enforcement agencies generally enforce local or state, not federal, laws, hate crime reporting in states with minimal anti-bias state law protections would be expected to be lower than in states with stringent state law protections.
In addition to variations in state laws, underreporting of hate crimes is a complex problem. Law enforcement agencies receive varying degrees of training about what constitutes a hate crime, and it is often posited that underreporting among law enforcement is common. For example, the majority of sheriff and police departments in Mississippi have not reported any hate crimes in years, but it seems unlikely that no bias-motivated crimes are occurring there. While local law enforcement agencies are required to report hate crimes to the state and that the state report to the FBI, there is no penalty written into state or federal law for not abiding. Additional causes for underreporting include fear of retaliation on the part of the victim, and law enforcement officers not wanting to take the time to do the additional paperwork required for hate crimes.
In addition to checking out the FBI’s Hate Crime Statistics webpage, those who are interested in reading more on the topic can also check out many data reports on the website for CSU’s Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism.