The number of hate crimes is up, according to the FBI’s newly released 2017 hate crimes statistics, continuing a trend seen the past few years.
There were more than 1,000 additional hate crimes reported in 2017 compared to a year earlier, but there was also increased reporting from law enforcement.
The increase includes a 37 percent spike in anti-Semitic crimes between 2016 and 2017. In 2016, participating law enforcement agencies reported 684 such incidents to the FBI. In 2017, that number jumped to 938.
The highest number of anti-Jewish hate crimes took place in 1996, when there were 1,109 such crimes. Since 2008, anti-Jewish hate crimes declined each year until 2015, when they began to rise again. This year’s spike in anti-Jewish crimes is the steepest recorded increase in the FBI’s online database going back 12 years.
The numbers are sobering, ADL CEO and National Director Jonathan A. Greenblatt noted in a statement.
“Two weeks ago, we witnessed the most deadly anti-Semitic hate crime in American history [at the Tree of Life building in Pittsburgh]. Today, we have another FBI study showing a big jump in hate crimes against Americans because of their race, religion, ethnicity and sexual orientation,” he said. “This report provides further evidence that more must be done to address the divisive climate of hate in America. 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.”
The hate crime statistics are an annual compilation from the Uniform Crime Reporting Program that tracks such crimes across the country. The information in the report comes from thousands of law enforcement agencies, which are encouraged to submit incident reports that meet the FBI’s UCR Program definition for hate crimes.
The program defines a hate crime as “a committed criminal offense which is motivated, in whole or in part, by the offender’s bias(es) against a race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, ethnicity, gender or gender identity.”
The emphasis on motivation is important because offenders can incorrectly assume someone is part of a targeted group, as when, for instance, a white nationalist gunman went to an Overland Park, Kan., JCC and to a Jewish retirement community in 2014 and killed three non-Jewish people in an anti-Semitic attack. In such cases, the FBI still counts the crime as a bias crime because the perpetrator was driven by bigotry or hatred of a particular group.
The FBI tracks six different types of bias that motivate hate crimes: race/ethnicity/ancestry; religion; sexual orientation; disability; gender; and gender identity. Each type of bias is further divided. Anti-Jewish crimes, as the FBI calls them, are tracked under the religion category, which includes bias crimes against Buddhists, Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, Hindus, Muslims, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons, Protestants, Christians and even atheists and agnostics.
Here are some yearly statistics:
Anti-Jewish hate crime incidents
Total hate crime incidents
Looking at available FBI numbers since 1996, however, the total number of hate crimes is still below the high of 2001, when a total of 9,730 hate crimes was reported to the UCR Program by law enforcement.
The latest report reveals that 59.6 percent of all single-bias hate crime incidents were race-based, with almost half of the crimes committed against African Americans. Hate crimes against Latinos and Arab Americans increased significantly; crimes against Asian Pacific Americans and Native Americans were up, too.
Religiously based hate crimes are up by 23 percent, and 20.6 percent of the total hate crime victims were targeted due to religious bias. It was the largest number of religion-based hate crimes reported, apart from 2001. Jews were the most targeted of any religious group, as 60 percent of religion-based crimes were against perceived Jewish targets.
At the same time, the ADL cautioned that the FBI’s statistics are likely low. Even with 16,149 law enforcement agencies submitting reports — the highest participation since the program’s inception — there are many jurisdictions that did not report, including at least 91 cities with populations exceeding 100,000 people. And 87 percent of respondents nationwide, including many big cities, affirmatively reported zero incidents.
“You can’t move what you can’t measure; without accurate reporting we don’t have a real sense of how widespread hate crimes are and what needs to be done to address bias in society,” Greenblatt said. “It is incumbent on police departments, mayors, governors, and county officials across the country to tally hate crimes data and report it to the FBI. The FBI can only report the data they receive. We must do more to make sure that cities report credible data.”
In Pennsylvania, 1,488 agencies were eligible to report; 23 filed incident reports for a total of 78 hate crimes, representing a 28 percent increase from last year and the highest total in the commonwealth since 2007. Of the 78, 17 were characterized as religion-based, and 14 were anti-Jewish specifically, double the number from last year.
But the ADL has noted that caveats must be considered when looking at the numbers for the tri-state area. Of the 2,069 agencies reporting for Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware, 91 percent affirmatively reported zero hate crimes, including the cities of Allentown, Newark, N.J., and Patterson, N.J.
“The numbers are only as good as that which people report,” said Nancy Baron-Baer, who leads the ADL’s office in Philadelphia. She found it hard to believe that there were no hate crimes whatsoever in Allentown and Newark in the past year, for instance. She also cautioned about reading too much into the increase.
“It could be that people feel more strongly about reporting incidents or that law enforcement is better trained to know what a hate crime is and properly record it as such,” she said. “It could be that in reality there are no more hate crimes out there but there are good reasons causing more to be brought forth.”
In addition to its online interactive hate crimes map, the ADL’s Audit of Anti-Semitic Incidents tracks both criminal and non-criminal acts of bias against Jews. Like the FBI report, the latest audit also shows significant upticks in anti-Jewish activity.
Whatever the numbers, Baron-Baer notes that hate crimes have long-lasting effects. “It scares an entire community,” she said. “It causes fear in that particular community beyond the one person who was targeted.”
The ADL is calling on federal and state officials to track hate more effectively, including enacting better hate crime laws and implementing improved training for police officials.
The FBI’s UCR Program was initially conceived in 1929 by the International Association of Chiefs of Police to aid law enforcement in gathering consistent information across different departments. Since 1990, when Congress passed the Hate Crime Statistics Act, the UCR Program has been responsible for fulfilling the congressional mandate to collect hate crime data. PJC
Liz Spikol writes for the Jewish Exponent, an affiliated publication of the Pittsburgh Jewish Chronicle.