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FBI’s new hate crime report captures an America changed by hate

A person pauses in front of Stars of David with the names of those killed in a deadly shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue, in Pittsburgh, on Oct. 29, 2018. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

(RNS) — Last month, after a gunman entered a Pittsburgh synagogue, yelled anti-Semitic hate speech and opened fire on the congregation, killing 11 people, many responded with a message that was both defiant and hopeful: “This is not the America I know.”

While I understand the intention behind such clichés, I also think it’s time for us to move beyond that and face reality. The massacre in Pittsburgh is, unfortunately, precisely the America we all know.

Today the FBI released its 2017 annual report on hate crimes in America, and the data is simultaneously astounding and unsurprising. Hate crimes are up for the third year in a row, with 7,175 reported last year, representing a 16.7 percent rise from the previous year, the second-highest increase since the FBI started tracking hate crimes.

The total number of incidents on the basis of religious identity rose by 23 percent in 2017. Anti-Jewish incidents surged by 37 percent and anti-Muslim hate crimes are still far above historical averages. The official count of anti-Sikh hate crime offenses increased 243 percent, from seven in 2016 to 24 in 2017.

The official statistics come as no surprise to those who experience such marginalization personally or who work on these issues professionally. They reflect a climate of growing hate that is emboldened and indeed enacted by those at the top. To say it a bit more directly: This is Trump’s America.

It seems silly to remark that these statistics indicate a concerning regression on racial and religious understanding in our society. Though given where we are right now, it somehow feels prudent to make that statement. And to keep repeating it.

What’s even more concerning is the point that civil rights organizations across the country have been making. The hate crime data collected by the FBI only represents the tip of the iceberg. A number of problems with the collection of relevant data leads to vast underreporting.

For instance, hate crime laws vary from state to state. Without a standard definition for what constitutes a hate crime and how authorities deal with them when they occur, collecting statistics is like trying to put together a puzzle with pieces from different puzzle sets. The pieces don’t fit together neatly, and even when we force them together, the final result does not represent an accurate picture. This is why we need to standardize the laws across states – to bring coherence and accuracy.

Moreover, there are still five states that do not have hate crime statutes: Arkansas, Georgia, Indiana, South Carolina and Wyoming. I found this news shocking when I first learned of it, in part because of the source who brought this to my attention.

In 1998, homophobes in Wyoming beat, tortured and murdered a young, gay man named Matthew Shepard in one of the most prominent anti-gay hate crimes in American history. However, because Wyoming did not have a hate crime statute in place at that time, the murder was not classified as an anti-gay hate crime.

Bishop LaTrelle Easterling, from left, the Rev. Mariann Budde and the Rev. V. Gene Robinson pray over Matthew Shepard’s ashes during the “Thanksgiving and Remembrance of Matthew Shepard” service on Oct. 26, 2018, at Washington National Cathedral in Washington. The ashes of Shepard, whose brutal murder in the 1990s became a rallying cry for the gay rights movement, were laid to rest in Washington National Cathedral. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

When I heard Judy Shepard, Matthew’s mother, speak in New York City earlier this year about the problem of hate violence in America, she was asked by someone in the audience what people could do. She made one simple ask: “Help us ensure that every state finally passes a hate crime statute.” It had been 20 years since the murder of her son, and for those 20 years, Matthew’s parents had toured the country, imploring the country to pass this legislation. It’s time we made that happen.

This matters because we only have an illusion of accurately understanding the problem of hate in America. We need better numbers to better understand hate. And for better statistics, we need better reporting methods and legislation.

Another problem that leads to underreporting is that many of those who are the most vulnerable to hate crimes don’t know how or don’t feel comfortable reporting them to authorities. Some don’t speak English. Some decline to report because of their immigration status, fearing deportation. Others mistrust the police based on previous experiences, at home or abroad. This mistrust is understandable, of course, when we recognize that those most often targeted by hate are also the most vulnerable to police mistreatment.

The FBI’s statistics are also flawed because no state requires local law enforcement to report hate crimes to the FBI when they document them. This means that the data represented in the official FBI statistics does not account for all the hate crimes reported throughout the country. In the just-released report, only 12.6 percent of police agencies participating in the FBI Hate Crime Statistics Program actually reported data. This means that numbers from nearly 90 percent of law enforcement agencies are not included.

What is not included in this report, in other words, is more damning than what is — and not only the missing statistics themselves. The underreporting of hate crime arises from all of us not wanting to know, not wanting to hear from those who suffer the most.

This may not be the America we want to know. But to get the America we want, or think we’ve lost, the first step is to acknowledge what we’ve become.

About the author

Simran Jeet Singh

Simran Jeet Singh is a scholar of religion currently based at NYU’s Center for Religion and Media. He is also senior religion fellow for the Sikh Coalition.

41 Comments

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  • I’ve said elsewhere on this site, I believe the opportunity of America as a country, which is now further away than it was just a couple of years ago, is that we have people from every country in the world living here that we can, if we so choose, try to learn to live together in peace and harmony with, in accordance with the two Great Commandments that the majority of Americans still believe: love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind and soul, and love your neighbor as yourself.

    It makes me sad that no one, not the president, not the administration, no one in congress or the supreme court, no one in government today is making an attempt to lead the country back to this simple law. Do we need our president to do it? Or can we just start reaching out to each other now? For my part, I am trying to get out of my comfort zone and reach out to people of different races, classes, creeds and orientations. To be clear, I am not trying to convert anyone, just trying to let them know we’re all in this together.

  • CORRECTION: “[These] official statistics … reflect a climate of growing hate that is … Trump’s America [and Obama’s America – both]”! Here’s the proof:

    “88 per cent of police departments that provided data for the 2016 annual report [by the FBI] had reported zero hate crimes. An Associated Press investigation 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 [INCLUDING THE OBAMA ERA]. … Some of police departments in major U.S. cities didn’t report hate crimes as part of the annual report, including the Honolulu Police Department, Indianapolis Police Department and police in Kansas City, Kansas. Other departments, like the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department and police in Miami, Florida and Newark, New Jersey, reported zero hate crimes.”

    Source: Michael Balsamo, “Hate crimes in U.S. jump 17 per cent in 2018: FBI report”, Associated Press, November 13, 2018.

  • Trump is a businessman. He’s not about incremental progress or equivocation, he’s about results, and two years into his term those results are starting to materialize. Here, at last, are numbers that he can point to, numbers that unambiguously say his administration is having an impact. And it’s not just his success- his base has been hard at work making these numbers happen. All across this nation Trump voters have been pushing the envelope and coming out from under their pointy hoods. They should take a victory lap. Preferably, off a cliff.

  • Remember when Homeland Security released its report in 2015 stating the biggest threat to the domestic U.S. was right wing militia groups and the conservatives made them bury that report? This goes much further back than trump. trump was just the match that lit the fuse.

  • “the two Great Commandments that the majority of Americans still believe: love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind and soul, and love your neighbor as yourself.”

    Actually there are a significant number of Americans who think those things are mutually exclusive.

  • “To say it a bit more directly: This is Trump’s America.”

    To say it even more directly, this is unmitigated nonsense.

    Every crime involving one person committing violence on one or more other persons is a hate crime.

    However, to qualify as a “hate crime” for the FBI’s statistics this crime has to perpetrated against the victim because of race, color, religion, national origin, actual or perceived sexual orientation, gender identity, disability, or gender.

    Is this done based on a full assessment by a competent psychiatrist?

    No.

    What happens is that local law enforcement (police and prosecutors) have to be familiar with the local statutes. If there is no “hate crime” statute(s), there is no hate crime. The actual facts and circumstances are irrelevant.

    If there is “hate crime” statute(s) AND that charging results in an enhanced sentence, the tendency for local law enforcement is to call it a “hate crime” which puts them in a better bargaining position if the accused wants to plea bargain.

    If the local press is making a big deal out of “hate crimes”, the tendency for local law enforcement is to call it a “hate crime”.

    Since a “hate crime” with some exceptions that are so clear cut no one can dispute it are in the eye of the beholder, hate crime statistics are squishy indeed.

    In fact they well be the crime of the moment.

    So, just what the FBI statistics are measuring is not clear at all.

  • FACT: “An Associated Press investigation 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 [i.e. from 2010 to 2016]”!

    FACT: From 2010 to 2016, hate crime report by FBI was doctored, reengineered, obfuscated, degraded.

    FACT: From 2010 to 2016, the Directors of FBI were Trump’s 2 enemies & Obama’s 2 allies: Robert Mueller (September 4, 2001 – September 4, 2013) and James Comey (September 4, 2013 – May 9, 2017). They weren’t about to release hate crime report during the Obama Era to make him look bad, no way.

    FACT: You said it and you summed it best: “Hate crime statistics are squishy indeed.”

  • Discrimination and hate toward others based on their characteristics (race, etc.) has always existed in our nation. Trump isn’t t blame for that. What he is to blame for is making it socially acceptable to be openly racist, bigoted, etc. His demonization of entire people groups, his constant personal denigrations of individuals, and his inability to unequivocally denounce things like racism has emboldened the worst elements in our nation. One can, for example, openly boast of being a racist now, and they’ll be applauded by millions. The hate crimes statistics increase reflects the lack of moral leadership by the President, and is to be greatly lamented. Repairing the damage he has enabled and encouraged will take some time and effort.

  • FACT: “An Associated Press investigation 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 [i.e. from 2010 to 2016 under the watch of Spuddie’s Favorite President and when Mueller & Comey were the FBI Directors]”!

    FACT: 2016 – 6 = 2010. Obama was Prez, ‘yo!

  • Obama was Prez, ‘yo, between 2010 and 2016, when FBI’s hate crime reports were repackaged to protect his reputation.

    You’re so easy. That Herd Mentality of yours must’ve been genetically & socially inherited. No hope for your kind.

  • On the topic of humor, read:

    https://pantheon-live.religionnews.com/2018/11/13/a-lot-of-white-evangelical-voters-arent-evangelicals/

    and then this comment:

    https://pantheon-live.religionnews.com/2018/11/13/a-lot-of-white-evangelical-voters-arent-evangelicals/#comment-4193889165

    “For a long time, really since 1980, there’s been a narrative honed by people like Reed that aroused evangelicals will make all the difference and that when evangelicals are asleep there’s hell to pay. It’s a version of the revival/backsliding story baked into Christianity. The truth is banal. White evangelicals vote pretty much the way other white Americans vote.”

    from the guy who’s been going on and on about the evangelicals electing Trump. Now we find they had nothing to do with it, the vote pretty much the way other white Americans vote.

    I laughed out loud when I read it.

    These folks really do like to chase their own tails.

  • I imploded right after this line. “Here’s how I know this.”

    Straightaway I ejected by pressing <– to return to Reality.

  • D.U.M.B QUESTION: “[‘Yo, Trump, aren’t you] making it socially acceptable to be openly racist, bigoted, etc.”?

    S.M.A.R.T. ANSWER: “Racism is evil and those who cause violence in its name are criminals and thugs, including the KKK, neo-Nazis, white supremacists, and other hate groups. Those who spread violence in the name of bigotry strike at the very core of America. To anyone who acted criminally in … racist violence, you will be held fully accountable. Justice will be delivered.​ … As a candidate I promised to restore law and order to our country, and our federal law enforcement agencies are following through on that pledge. We will spare no resource in fighting so that every American child can grow up free from violence and fear. We will defend and protect the sacred rights of all Americans and we will work together so that every citizen in this blessed land is free to follow their dreams, in their hearts, and to express the love and joy in our souls.”
    – US President Donald Trump, August 14, 2017.

  • Yup and his administration recognized the threat that Trump fuels and capitalizes on. Republicans has already started to throw their lot in with white aupremacusts back then.

    Trumps antics already have a body count. 40 murders by right wing extremists since taking office. Neo Nazis being retweeted by the president. White supremacist jargon such as “chain migration” being put out by Trump. Children in concentration camps. The list goes on.

  • Yup conservatives have opposed reporting such things as they attack their bigoted voting base.

    Guess which party has political control of those municipalities and states?

  • My facebook page is a microcosm of this subject. I’m the only non christians democrat on it. I have been called every name in the book, had my life threatened, called evil so many times I can’t count, by many who have my same last name.

  • Unfortunately those who commit hate crimes often, though not always do it in the name of, for the love of their God.

  • The probelm is that Crime is Crime. What I mean by that is, if someone is murdered, reguardless of the reason, it is murder. It does NOT need to be considered HATE, it is crime and it should be prosecuted as such. We demand justice but settle for tolerance and get neither. Maybe we should have a “tolerance crime” law. If you witness a crime and do nothing you should have the same penalty. (yup that is insanity but it is not much different than hate crime.)

    WE tolerate it when someone is let go on a “technicality” Then we scream if someone is jailed because “they were in the wrong place at the wrong time”. The problem is we are all intolerant to what is not what we agree with and we are overly tolerant for things that aligns with what we belive, then blame everyone else that is “not like us”. Afterall, its all realitive, what’s right for me may not be right for you (“unless you have a bigger mob”).

    This is NOT TRUMPs America, its it not even OBAMAs America. It is OUR America. We give our authority away to those that are governing for their own benefit not the benefit of those that are governed. Like many, I do believe the Trump election is not much different than the Jesse Ventura election in Minnesota. (“Shocked the world”). The media treats it the same (in spite of some success.) It is NOT great that we have TRUMP and I will not say we are better off, but it is what we ALL deserve what we get when we get lazy and stay home or refuse to participate in the very process that should keep this from happening. (it starts before the primaries)

    We as a Nation WERE successful not because we were all the same, but precisely because we were different, but everyone believed it could be better. People were willing to have a discourse and then work together. People educated thenselves and participated. There were people that wanted to change and there were people that wanted to keep things the same. (Read actual history and you will learn which is which.) The library of congress and other locations do contain actual writings of those that lived it by those that lived it. Don’t just read your favorite book on history, its bias. (its likely that bias probably matches your own)

    Right now people are told, its one extreme or the other, if you are neither then you get squashed by both. There is a majority (its not either extreme). If you want one extreme to win then do nothing or fight for the minority (I am not talking race or creed) We all point to someone else and forget there are three fingers pointing back at ourselves precisely because we are convinced “THEY” are the intolerant haters. We talk and we do not listen. The FACT is that WE are to blame.

    Stop blaming others and DO something other than complain. Listen to what others say respond respectfully. While many will deny it, we do all have more in common with each other than we think. We just believe too much of what we see and what we are told. We rarely THINK and rarely ASK Relevant Questions. If America fails it will be because WE ALL Failed, not because the democrats or republicans won too many elections or because the legislative branch ran amok. It will be because WE LET IT HAPPEN, WE allowed those governing to stay in place when they should be removed, we put people back in power after they were removed, or we just chose to buy that shiny gadget online rather than pay attention to the cliff we are driving off. We DO NOT NEED MORE LAWS, we need to be more responsive and enforce the laws we have AND we need to hold folks we put in place accountable for their actions.

  • “Spuddie 9 hours ago … White aupremacusts”?

    Already in the morning?

    Well, then, it’s my civic duty to warn you:

    Don’t Drink and Drive!

  • Excellent story, thank you. One of the problems here is that we are a huge country. We have almost 329 million people. In the context of such a large country 7,125 reported hate incidents suggests that the overwhelming majority people don’t engage in such behavior. At the same time, a few people are no doubt responsible for multiple hate incidents. I notice that people of all faiths and races share common values — they want a better life for their kids, lower taxes, and better healthcare. You get the idea. We need to characterize bigots for what they are, losers in the great lottery of life, people who can’t admit that we’re all pretty much alike.

  • They speak great swelling words of pride, they manipulate using the desires of the people, through much wantonness… While they promise them liberty, they themselves are the servants of corruption…-2 Peter2:19

  • You are the puzzy-grabbin, MAGA man lecturing someone on ‘Herd Mentality’. I believe you are just as psychotic as you appear…

  • Now look what you’ve done. The Ring’s Creepy Girl with the Hair is going to “appear” on you now for typing that up, Toothing.

  • Speaking of which, this was your defense of Louisiana College’s football coach Joshua “Bonadona [who] was born into a Jewish family but converted to Christianity”, but whom “the college’s president, Rick Brewer, refused to approve [for] hiring because of … the applicant’s ‘Jewish blood'”:

    (1) “Dr. Phlerman 5 months ago … What an awful reflection on Louisiana College, which already is recognized as the 106th best college in the region.”

    (2) “DR Phlerman July 25, 2018 …Jews are a religion … Jews can convert to other faiths or no faith.”

    Yet this was your attack against Jews for Jesus, who, like Joshua Bonadona, were all “born into a Jewish family but converted to Christianity”:

    (3) “Dr. Phlerman 13 days ago … This [Jews for Jesus’ testimony that ‘We are Jews who believe in Jesus as the Jewish Messiah’] is like saying you’re a Catholic who worships Vishnu.”

    (4) “Dr. Phlerman 13 days ago … With your reasoning … [that] ‘You can absolutely be Jewish by birth and Christian by faith’ … someone could legitimately claim to be a pastor who teaches Satanism. I disagree.”

    So, Joshua Bonadona is like “a Catholic who worships Vishnu” or “a pastor who teaches Satanism” – even though “Jews can convert to other faiths or no faith”?!?!

    Or is your highly prejudicial and only meaning that, “Jews can convert to other faiths or no faith” – so long as they’re not, you know, those Jews for Jesus?!?!

    Source: (1) Disqus-sion of “Judge: Jewish heritage can be basis for race discrimination”, RNS, July 17, 2018. (2) Comments on “Is Judaism a Race or a Religion? Federal Judge Weighs In”, Universal Life Church Monastery, July 18, 2018. (3) Disqus-sion on “Jewish groups decry Messianic Jewish rabbi’s prayer at Pence rally”, RNS, November 8, 2018. (4) Disqus-sion on “He’s not a rabbi, and it’s not Judaism”, RNS, October 31, 2018.

  • One of the problems with publicizing the rise in hate crimes is that it has to be committed by the “right” people to get much attention. Consider a recent article in the New York Times (https://www.nytimes.com/2018/10/31/nyregion/jewish-bias-safety-nyc.html ), covering the rise and extend of anti-Semitic hate crimes in New York City, and has this gem to explain the lack of attention:

    “If anti-Semitism bypasses consideration as a serious problem in New York, it is to some extent because it refuses to conform to an easy narrative with a single ideological enemy. During the past 22 months, not one person caught or identified as the aggressor in an anti-Semitic hate crime has been associated with a far right-wing group, Mark Molinari, commanding officer of the police department’s Hate Crimes Task Force, told me.”

    And of course, the Left has no interest in discussing the outpouring of hatred and sexism on display by its shocktroops that descended on Washington during the Kavanaugh hearing.

  • Hated and sexism on display? Could you perhaps frame your response in front of a picture of the Republican old men abusing Ford in the committee? Ya old boys club.couldnt keep the sneers from their faces as someone dared stand up as an obstacle in the path of the immediacy of a conservative activist SCOTUS. The Right sides with abusers over the abused and then whimpers about how abused white, Christian, conservative men are. Its desperate, pathetic, and exceptionally predictable.

    But CCC Supremacists gonna CCC Supremacy, I suppose.

  • Thank you for illustrating the sexism in question. At least you left out the “White” that other detractors of the Senate Republicans reflexively tossed in.

  • ? I’m sorry that you are so committed to the right wing lie claiming that men (and Kav in particular) are so victimized.

    Indeed! Congressional Republicans are a pack of old “White” men— ever so much more so since the midterms. They were the very illustration of Trumpist Cultservative misogyny & sexism in plain sight.

    That your political myopia misses that is… par for the course.

    https://mashable.com/article/republican-senators-press-conference-yelling-kavanaugh/#ZTYZhOwgsZqy

    “Proportion of Democrats who are white men will drop from 41% to 38% while Republican figure will climb from 86% to 90%”

    https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2018/nov/14/congress-diversity-democrats-republicans-photo

  • I don’t need to listen to “right-wing lies” I just need to watch and read the news. Especially of the all-out attempt of the Left to destroy Kavanaugh and by extension his family.

    And I’m not surprised the number of White men in the Republican Party is growing, the Left is driving them there.

  • 1) You rely on subjective wingnut media. And draw from it the right wing spin. As you just once again derped.

    2) The Left isn’t driving them anywhere. White male Republicans (and pedophiles) are who Republicans have been for a very long time. “The Left” doesn’t choose who runs on the Right. The Right does.

    Forget it. You’re stuck in the right wing lie refusing to believe the possibility that a teenage drunk groping girls, when the women have come forward to confront their perpetrator. There is no ground further for discussion.

  • If you don’t think there’s any point to continuing the discussion, then don’t continue the discussion. But you’re right, it’s pointless to try to debate with someone that has been drinking so deeply of the “Conservatives/Populists are evil” kool-aid.

  • Why did you change the subject so abruptly? You stated, quite clearly, that Trump was the cause of all the spikes in violent crime nationwide. Then someone pointed out to you that your statement was clearly incorrect (these statistics coming from 6 years of the Obama administration), and instead of admit your mistake and reconsider your position, you doubled-down, attempting to blame conservatives for not reporting such crimes.

    That doesn’t even remotely explain why you made your original statement, and makes another unfounded statement attempting to extrapolate an excuse for the statistics so that they will still support your personal political slant, and avoiding the ever-dreaded task of reflecting on our own choices and beliefs. It’s scary to admit that we’re wrong about something, and it’s hard to consider that your opinions are based on emotion and opinion, and these bases have clearly led you astray. Changing our perception is hard, but when we find out we are wrong, or that statistics don’t work out in our favor, there are few options left for the intellectually honest, or sincere seeker of truth.

    I imagine you may attempt to disregard these statistics as many do, when their opinions run counter to them; perhaps you will deny that statistics even matter, or they are totally unreliable. If that is true, why did you attempt to use them to justify your original comment. Do statistics become reliable and valid only when they support you? Strange how they were “proof” of something when you thought they could be used to support your view. Or perhaps not. Perhaps you’re not the type of person who would attempt to disregard statistics. People sometimes surprise me.

    And before you attempt to dismiss my words out-of-hand because I’m a “Trump supporter,” I should clarify: I hate Trump. He’s clueless and a megalomaniac. I just enjoy scrolling through these threads and looking for decent comments or opinions, and occasionally calling out people who are being intellectually dishonest.

    As for Trump, I hope someone decent replaces him in the next election, but I fear we’ve set ourselves up for failure by, well…allowing ourselves to side with a party or position and defend our stance like it’s a sports team. Cooperation alone will save us, but neither party can admit when they have done or thought things incorrectly, and acted on those incorrect ideas. Takes a lot of humility and honesty, which I believe our country has in very short supply.

  • Didn’t read. It looked like dishonest trolling ranting from the first sentence.

    Clearly you have no concerns about a president who tacitly approves of white supremacist nonsense. Preferring deflection, lying, denial and whining. When you support one who has or had at least three white supremacists on your staff, lack of concern for hate crimes is a given.

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