Hate crime deaths reach all-time high, despite chronic underreporting

Three things the Biden-Harris administration can do to help address the pandemic of hate in our country.

Image by Dino KF Wong/Pixabay/Creative Commons

(RNS) —  It has become one of the most consistent trends in the Trump era: The number of total hate incidents increased again last year, according to the FBI’s annual hate crime report, released Monday (Nov. 16).  There were 7,314 hate crimes reported in in 2019, nearly 200 more than in 2018 and the highest level in more than a decade.

Perhaps more strikingly, the number of hate-based deaths recorded reached an all-time high since the FBI started tracking those statistics in 1995. Fifty-one people were killed in deadly hate crimes in 2019.

Unfortunately, these statistics are no longer surprising. What might shock some, however, is that this data represents only the tip of the iceberg. In 2019, only about 13% of local law enforcement agencies — 2,172 out of 15,588— reported that hate crimes took place to the FBI. Worse, that’s fewer law enforcement agencies than in previous years.

What we don’t know about hate in this country, in other words, casts a looming shadow over what we do know.

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According to the FBI data, there was about a 7% increase in hate crimes motivated by religious bias, which drives nearly 20% of all hate crimes. The majority of religious bias crimes are anti-Jewish, and those rose 14% in 2019.

Anti-transgender hate crimes also proliferated, rising by 20% compared with 2018.

But most hate crimes in 2019, as in previous years, were driven by racial bias and target Black individuals.

The FBI doesn’t detail why hate crimes increased, but it’s not hard to imagine that when the president of the United States fans the flames of hate, the incidents of hate would increase and accountability for hate-inspired crimes would decrease.

President-elect Joe Biden ran on a commitment to restoring the soul of our nation, launching his campaign as a direct response to the white supremacist violence that erupted in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017. But his election alone won’t reverse our current trend. How can we increase reporting from law enforcement agencies and decrease the overall quantity and deadliness of hate crimes in America?

Here are three things the Biden-Harris administration can do to help address the pandemic of hate in our country.

First, the new administration must prioritize hate crime prosecution by appointing leaders in the Department of Justice who are committed to enforcing federal hate crime laws. Being willing to address hate when it occurs is critical to quelling bigotry.

Second, a Biden Justice Department can call on state and local law enforcement agencies to provide accurate hate crime data to the federal level. Currently, there is no law mandating accurate reports on hate violence to the FBI, and the lack of accountability and incentive results in severe underreporting.

While the Bureau of Justice Statistics estimates that approximately 250,000 hate crimes occur every year, the FBI only receives an average of 6,200 reported incidents annually — less than 3% of the overall picture. New mandates on accurate reporting can help change that.

This severe underreporting is a byproduct of limited resources. In making hate violence a priority, the new administration must, thirdly, push forward legislation that improves funding for resources at the state and local level.

The federal government can do this by passing the Khalid Jabara-Heather Heyer NO HATE Act. This bill, named for two victims of hate crimes that were not reported as such, would improve hate crime tracking by providing necessary training for law enforcement officials and by establishing hate crime reporting hotlines for people who are targets in hate.  

These are three simple steps the Biden-Harris administration can take to reclaim this country from the clutches of hate, and to begin to create a path toward healing, justice and the restoration of our nation’s soul.

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