By Peter White
NASHVILLE, TN — Whether something is a hate crime or a hate incident matters little to the victims. They know they have been targeted. Many more hate incidents are reported than hate crimes; hate incidents do not rise to the level of a hate crime and are more likely to violate someone’s civil rights.
“Hate does not happen in a vacuum,” says Becky L. Monroe, Deputy Director in the California Civil Rights Department (CRD). “Acts of hate may not violate the law but are still deeply harmful,” she said.
“We at CRD are already in the business of combatting discrimination in employment, in housing, in public accommodations, and businesses,” she said. People who are victims of hate and discrimination are harrassed for their disability, gender, nationality, race, religion, or sexual orientation, and Monroe said they could be targeted for their association with a person or group with one or more of these perceived characteristics.
“Hate crimes are on the rise but they are also underreported,” Monroe said.
The FBI’s annual hate crime report (UCR) gets its data from law enforcement agencies. In 2020 the UCR reported there were 8,263 hate crimes, the highest number since 2008. Hate crimes against Blacks increased 43 percent and anti-Asian hate crimes increased by more than 73 percent.
However, the Department of Justice (DOJ) estimated that the actual number of hate crimes was closer to 250,000 because, for the third straight year, the number of law enforcement agencies providing data to the FBI has declined. The FBI has to report hate crimes. Local law enforcement agencies do not.
“If you are from a community that is targeted for hate, you will know that if your department is reporting zero hate crimes, it will feel like maybe your police department isn’t out there to protect you,” Monroe said.
“The majority of hate crimes are perpetrated by white men and the majority of hate crime victims in the United States are Black people and they have always been,” she said.
Researcher Brian Levin studies crime reporting in America’s largest cities. He found more hate crimes occur in big cities because they have large populations and they are the most diverse. If you hate a particular kind of person you are bound to run into one of them in places like New York City, Los Angeles, or Chicago.
“Eighty-five percent of the law enforcement agencies that do report to the UCR, report that zero hate crimes occur in their jurisdiction. That involves a tremendous number of cities with over 100,000 people. It’s simply not credible that no hate crimes occur there,” Levin said.
He is a criminologist and civil rights attorney and director of the Center for the Study of Hate & Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino. Levin said that the latest DOJ victimization study showed that unreported hate crimes have gone down to about 200,000.
“Even if you use that number it’s still 1 percent of violent crimes. For a criminologist that is an astounding number,” he said. He doubts it’s real.
“Toward the end of the last decade the majority of victims are reporting but in the communities that are the most vulnerable, they’re not,” he said.
Levin said there are big issues with the data, especially in the South. “So you have to take all of this with a grain of salt. But the bottom line is: we know there is massive under-reporting that is many times what the FBI is finding.”
In Pennsylvania, for example, Levin found discrepancies with the data from Pittsburgh and Philadelphia. Those police departments each reported one hate crime in 2021. “When I went to Philadelphia and Pittsburgh they had many more than that–about 170 or so,” he said.
Hate Crimes in Tennessee
Seventy-nine of Tennessee’s 95 counties did not report hate crimes to the TBI. Neither did 54 state park rangers. Twenty-five Tennessee colleges and universities did not report hate crime data including Tennessee State University, Vanderbilt, University of Tennessee, and 15 state colleges, including Nashville State.
In 2019, 465 Tennessee law enforcement agencies provided data for a population of 6.8 million. Only 42 agencies submitted hate crime stats for a total of 117 hate incident reports. In 2020, the DOJ reported 152 hate crime incidents in Tennessee.
The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation compiles hate crime data from the Nashville Metro Police Department for Davidson County. In 2017 there were 31 reported cases; in 2018 there were 8; in 2019 there were 9; in 2020 there were 10.
The Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism just released a“Report to the Nation: 2020s-–Dawn of a Decade of Rising Hate.”
Some report findings & highlights:
• 11 false hate crime reports (.15 percent) out of 7,100 hate crimes reported in 2018.
• 44 transgender people killed in 2020, 53 in 2021; most were Black and Latinx transgender women.
• 515 killings and 1,852 violent incidents against homeless people between 1999-2019
• FBI Director Christopher Wray testified in late 2021 that the mostly far right domestic violent extremist investigations rose from 1,000 to 2,700 since mid-2019.
• “The years 2020 and 2021 had the highest numbers of domestic terrorist attacks and plots in our data set. In 2021, there were 73 terrorist attacks and plots in the United States… [and] the number of fatalities increased from 5 in 2020 to 30 in 2021. (From Center for Strategic & International Studies)
• Anti-Black crime rose 46 percent in the FBI’s nationwide totals in 2020.
In 2021 anti-Black hate crime remained the most frequent, according to Levin.
Levin’s research in fifteen major American cities found that hate crimes increased for the fourth consecutive year. Blacks, Jews, gays and Latinos were the most frequent targets in the first half of 2022. There were 369 Anti-Asian hate crimes in 2021(up 224 percent), a 59 percent rise in anti-Jewish crimes, a 51 percent rise in anti-gay crimes, a 41 percent increase of anti-Latino crimes, a 30 percent increase in anti-white crimes, and a 16 percent rise in anti-Black crime. Levin said that only a fraction of hate crimes are being prosecuted.
The Stop AAPI Hate Campaign began in San Francisco. Across the U.S., the AAPI campaign has reported more than 3,000 incidents of anti-Asian hate crimes and incidents since March 2020. (see https://tntribune.com/racial-violence-increases-in-new-york-and-california/)
Levin said that “catalytic” events like the 9-11 terrorist attacks in New York and the killing of George Floyd in 2020 trigger a sharp spike in hate crimes. After George Floyd was killed hate crime reports increased for months. He said that was unusual because they usually taper off in a matter of weeks. Levin said that police violence was the likely cause during the many Black Lives Matter protests following Floyd’s death.
Social Media and Political Extremism Are Driving Hate
“On December 6, 2019 when impeachment was announced against Donald Trump, that was the worst day of the year for hate crime. So we’re seeing that kind of insurrection effect,” Levin said.
In addition, hate crimes are getting more violent. “Part of that is the socio-political milieu we’re in and how social media can become an incubator and toxic cauldron of this stuff,” he said.
“As threats of violence become more widespread, it can create an atmosphere in which the threshold for committing actual violence is lowered. When violent rhetoric becomes pervasive, people willing to commit violence feel justified. They feel like there’s community support. It enables them. That’s a reality we all have to start grappling with,” said Alan Feuer, a crime reporter for the New York Times.
Feuer listened to hundreds of trials of the January 6 insurrectionists. One January 6 defendant testified that he marched on the Capitol because President Donald Trump told him to. Feuer built a database of more than 850 cases. He said that one person who marched on the Capitol flew into Washington on his private jet. But most of the defendants were poor, many had addictions or deep family dysfunction.
What can be done?
While criminologists struggle with data to define the scope of hate crimes in the U.S. and civil rights groups fight back against hate in their communities, some are working to defuse ethnic tensions by taking field trips. Susanna Yee creates intergenerational and interracial community healing events. She has a background in Chinese methods of healing pain and trauma. Her grandmother was attacked and later died from a racial attack in a San Francisco park. (See https://tntribune.com/getting-past-hate/)
In July, Yee took five Black and five Chinese teenagers in a charter bus on a month-long road trip around the U.S. “We went to 16 cities to learn about each others’ culture, history, contributions to the United States. We did a lot of team bonding events and activities,” Yee said.
One of those was creating and performing a dance together. Although there were conflicts and different styles of communication, Yee said that the teenagers got to understand themselves as individuals and as a collective.
“We come with a lot of racial trauma and baggage… but I encourage us to look at the language we are using,” Yee said.
“How do we create a more humane and inclusive world? Each one of us has the power to transform our immediate street, community, school. You just have to look for the opportunity and it’s all around. So my grandmother has sparked in me an awareness to reach across cultural lines and develop friendships, and I encourage you to do the same.”