Hate crimes in the US rise to highest level in more than a decade

FBI report finds hate-motivated killings reached their highest number since it began tracking numbers in the 1990s.

A group of protesters demonstrate against a KKK rally in Charlottesville in 2017 [File: Steve Helber/AP Photo]

Hate crimes in the United States rose to the highest level in more than a decade as federal officials also recorded the highest number of hate-motivated killings since the FBI began collecting that data in the early 1990s, according to an FBI report released on Monday.

The report was alarming to advocacy organisations, including the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), which tracks hates groups.

“The FBI’s report is another reminder that we have much work to do to address hate in America,” Margaret Huang, SPLC president, said in a statement.

Decade high

There were 51 hate crime murders in 2019, which includes 22 people who were killed in a shooting that targeted Mexicans at a Walmart in the border city of El Paso, Texas, the report said.

The suspect in that August 2019 shooting, which left two dozen other people injured, was charged with both state and federal crimes in what authorities said was an attempt to scare Latinos into leaving the US.


El Paso shooter
El Paso Walmart mass shooter Patrick Crusius, a 21-year-old male from Allen, Texas, accused of killing 22 and injuring 25, is arraigned, in El Paso [File: Mark Lambie/Reuters]

There were 7,314 hate crimes last year, up from 7,120 the year before – and approaching the 7,783 of 2008. The FBI’s annual report defines hate crimes as those motivated by bias based on a person’s race, religion or sexual orientation, among other categories.

The data also shows there was a nearly 7 percent increase in religion-based hate crimes, with 953 reports of crimes targeting Jews and Jewish institutions last year, up from 835 the year before. The FBI said the number of hate crimes against African Americans dropped slightly to 1,930, from 1,943.

Anti-Hispanic hate crimes, however, rose to 527 in 2019, from 485 in 2018. And the total number of hate crimes based on a person’s sexual orientation stayed relatively stable, with one fewer crime reported last year, compared with the year before, though there were 20 more hate crimes against gay men reported.

“Today’s numbers from the FBI prove Latinos, Blacks, the Arab, Muslim and LGBTQ communities are among those wearing a target on their back every day in America,” Domingo Garcia, president of the League of United Latin American Citizens, said in a statement emailed to Al Jazeera.

Garcia pointed to the “politics of distrust and division” President Donald Trump, who has long faced criticism for slow disavowals of far-right support and “racist” rhetoric.

“We urge President-elect [Joe] Biden to form a task force that will have the powers to swiftly address this danger with the FBI and local law enforcement”, Garcia said.

Incomplete picture?

Some of the 2019 increases may be the result of better reporting by police departments, but more can be done, advocacy groups said after the data was made public.

“Hate crimes are consistently under-reported due to the federal government’s failure to mandate hate crime data collection at the state and local levels,” Huang said.

Last year, only 2,172 law enforcement agencies out of about 15,000 participating agencies across the country reported hate crime data to the FBI, the bureau said.

And while the number of agencies reporting hate crimes increased, the number of agencies participating in the programme actually dropped from the year before.

A large number of police agencies appeared not to submit any hate crime data, which has been a consistent struggle for Justice Department officials. Advocacy organisations have long called for greater action to ensure reporting.

“The total severity of the impact and damage caused by hate crimes cannot be fully measured without complete participation in the FBI’s data collection process,” the Anti-Defamation League’s president, Jonathan Greenblatt, said in a statement.

An investigation by The Associated Press news agency in 2016 found that more than 2,700 city police and county sheriff’s departments across the country had not submitted a single hate crime report for the FBI’s annual crime tally during the previous six years.

“We are calling on the federal government to address this issue by implementing new policies that require all law enforcement agencies to track and report this important information to the federal government”, Huang concluded.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies