Hate Crimes Continue to Surge in America
Underreporting Remains Significant Problem in FBI’s Annual Statistics
The Arab American Institute expressed concern and disappointment with the release of the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s (FBI) 2017 hate crime statistics. As expected, hate crime surged yet again in 2017. However, the data contained some glaring omissions, including three of the most severe acts of bias-motivated violence committed last year. And while career officials at the Department of Justice continue to demonstrate a commitment to serving communities and preventing hate crime, we remain dissatisfied with the response from this administration.
The FBI statistics on hate crime data submitted from law enforcement agencies across the United States are published annually. The data are collected under the Hate Crime Statistics Act of 1990 and subsequent updates, which require the Justice Department to gather information about crimes motivated by race or ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, disability, gender, and gender identity.
According to the FBI, a total of 7,175 hate crime incidents were reported in 2017, representing a 17 percent increase over 2016 data and the greatest single-year increase reported since 2001, when hate crime targeting Arab Americans and American Muslims, and those perceived to be Arab or Muslim, surged in the aftermath of 9/11. Since the FBI reported a 6.8 percent increase in 2015 and a 4.6 percent increase in 2016, the 2017 data also represent the first three-year consecutive annual increase since 2001.
Of 34 reportable bias motivation categories, all but five reported an increase in 2017. With 2,013 incidents reported, “Anti-Black or African American” bias accounted for nearly half of all crimes motivated by race or ethnicity, which rose 18 percent according to the FBI data, while “Anti-American Indian or Alaska Native,” “Anti-Multiple Races, Group,” and “Anti-Hispanic or Latino” hate crimes all increased over 20 percent (251, 180, and 427 incidents, respectively). “Anti-Arab” hate crime, which was reintroduced into the data collections in 2015 after the category became “invalid” in 1996 and was eliminated in 2001, increased 100 percent last year, with 102 incidents reported.
As for crimes motivated by religion, which increased 23 percent in 2017, “Anti-Jewish” hate crime surged 37 percent, representing a majority with 938 incidents reported. After increasing 67 percent in 2015 and 19 percent in 2016, “Anti-Islamic (Muslim)” hate crime decreased in 2017 but remained well above historical averages with 273 incidents reported.
Based on state-level hate crime statistics reported through the Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) system, which the FBI also uses to publish its annual report, the Arab American Institute was expecting an increase of crimes motivated by sexual orientation in 2017 statistics. While an increase was reported in the federal data, it was less significant than expected. Analysis from AAI shows that in multiple states, official state-level data reported a greater number of incidents than what is reported in the FBI’s statistics. Crimes motivated by disability, gender, and gender identity, which are more recent additions to the data collections and generally produce smaller annual totals, were significantly affected by these discrepancies. For example, the Kentucky State Police reported 41 gender-motivated hate crime incidents in official state-level statistics, whereas only 46 incidents were reported nationwide according to the FBI data.
Aside from these discrepancies, additional aspects of the 2017 federal data suggest significant underreporting, the most striking of which being the omission of three of the most severe acts of bias-motivated violence committed last year. According to FBI statistics, the city of Olathe, Kansas, reported no hate crimes, and statewide, zero hate crime murders were reported in 2017. But on February 22, Srinivas Kuchibhotla was shot to death in an Olathe bar because of his perceived national origin. The shooter, Adam Purinton, who also wounded Kuchibhotla’s friend Alok Madasani and another man named Ian Grillot, was convicted on federal hate crime charges. Similarly, neither the May 26 fatal stabbing of Ricky John Best and Taliesin Myrddin Namkai-Meche aboard a train in Portland, Oregon, nor the August 12 killing of Heather Heyer in Charlottesville, Virginia, is reflected in the federal data.
Further, over 300 jurisdictions representing populations of at least 50,000 people reported zero hate crimes in 2017. Of these jurisdictions, 78 represent populations of at least 100,000, and research from AAI found evidence of no fewer than 10 additional major jurisdictions that did not even participate in the data collections. The largest jurisdiction to report zero hate crimes in 2017 was the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department, which represents a population of over 1.6 million and is one of the nation’s largest police departments in terms of population served. The entire state of Nevada had only three agencies submit incident reports last year, with just five incidents reported statewide. Not including Hawai’i, which does not participate in the national hate crime statistics program, 11 additional states had fewer than 10 agencies submit incident reports in 2017.
The reported increase in the FBI’s hate crime statistics warrants concern, as do the discrepancies between state and federal hate crime data, the omission of several high-profile hate crime incidents, and the limited rate of hate crime reporting in some major jurisdictions. AAI commends career officials at the FBI and Department of Justice for their work on investigating, prosecuting, and collecting data on hate crime. In particular, the FBI’s Crime Statistics Management Unit has demonstrated a commitment to producing accessible data and has provided invaluable assistance during our research on hate crime reporting and data collection.
On the continued increase in hate crime, AAI’s Executive Director, Maya Berry, offered the following comments:
“The scourge of hate crime continues to harm communities in cities and states across the country. The FBI data confirms the reality we all know: hate is increasing in America. The FBI data, in what is missing from it, also demonstrates the hate crime reporting system we have in place is falling to respond adequately to hate crime, and thus inform fully the policy remedies we must make to improve our response to hate.
While we remain grateful to the career professionals at the DOJ, it is clear the Trump Administration has largely abdicated from the stated federal interest of eradicating bias-motivated violence, and the president’s rhetoric has at times appeared to exacerbate its spread. With respect to the recent data release, AAI is disappointed that despite our request, the administration made no attempt to coordinate an event with stakeholders and officials to discuss the annual FBI statistics, as was customary during previous administrations.”
Founded in 1985, the Arab American Institute (AAI) is a nonprofit organization committed to the civic and political empowerment of Americans of Arab descent. AAI provides policy, research and public affairs services to support a broad range of community activities. For more information please visit aaiusa.org.