CORRECTION: Listed among the partner organizations releasing the report analyzing state and federal hate crimes is Asian Americans Advancing Justice — AAJC. The organization was initially identified in this post as Asian Americans Advancing Justice; that name was corrected to Asian Americans Advancing Justice — AAJC at the request of Michelle Boykins, the organization’s senior director of communications, who explained that the AAJC refers to the organization’s previous name, which was “Asian American Justice Center.”
— Tammye Nash, managing editor

There were 7,759 hate crimes involving 10,528 victims reported in the U.S. in 2020, the highest annual tally in the last 12 years (since 2008, when 7,783 hate crimes were reported to the FBI), according to an FBI report released this week. But as NPR notes, experts and advocacy groups say the real number is likely higher than that.

The NPR report says the 2020 numbers follow a recent upward trend in hate crimes, and that it was a 6 percent increase over such incidents reported in 2019.

Some 64 percent — or nearly two out of every three — of hate crimes reported in 2020 were motivated by bias against race, ethnicity or ancestry: 36 percent were anti-Black or anti-African-American, 10 percent were anti-white and 9 percent were anti-Jewish.

Of the more than 10,000 victims, 61.9 percent were targeted because of the offenders’ race/ethnicity/ancestry bias, 20.5 percent were victimized because of the offenders’ sexual-orientation bias, 13.4 percent were targeted because of the offenders’ religious bias, 2.5 percent were targeted because of the offenders’ gender identity bias, 1 perc ent were victimized because of the offenders’ disability bias, and 0.7 percent were victimized because of the offenders’ gender bias.

There were 205 multiple-bias hate crime incidents that involved 333 victims.

Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO of the Anti-Defamation League, said in a statement, “While these numbers are disturbing on their own, the fact that so many law enforcement agencies did not participate is inexcusable, and the fact that over 60 jurisdictions with populations over 100,000 affirmatively reported zero hate crimes is simply not credible.”

There has also been a rise in reported hate crimes targeting Asian people. “The national coalition Stop AAPI Hate received 9,081 incident reports of bias incidents against Asians and Pacific Islanders between March 19, 2020, and this June. The sudden increase … was attributed in part to the scapegoating of the Asian community for the emergence of COVID-19, which originated in China and which former President Donald Trump called the ‘Chinese virus.’” NPR reports.


MAP analyzes state, federal hate crime laws

At the same time that the FBI was releasing its alarming statistics, the Movement Advancement Project and 16 other civil rights organizations were releasing a new report providing “a groundbreaking analysis of state and federal hate crime laws.”

The report provides “a comprehensive look at both the opportunities and limitations of hate crime laws as a means of preventing and addressing hate violence,” according to a press release from MAP. “While responding to hate violence is imperative, the report finds that hate crime laws across the country are inconsistent and provide complex and incomplete methods of addressing hate violence.”

The report finds that federal and state governments vary widely in their responses to hate violence, creating a complex patchwork of laws and protections that means that “someone who experiences a hate crime may have a completely different set of protections, options or access to resources depending on where the crime occurs,” the press release points out.

The report analyzes state hate crime statutes across more than 10 distinct characteristics. The common element across state hate crime laws is the use of criminal punishment, typically through sentencing enhancements.

Ineke Mushovic, executive director of MAP, said, “At a time of rising hate violence, we need to re-examine and expand our responses. Hate crime laws serve a necessary purpose, but they are inconsistent, sometimes flawed, and can even harm the very communities they are meant to serve. We need to improve our hate crime laws and engage in broader solutions to reducing hate in our country. Like any law, hate crime laws alone won’t fix a problem as large as rising hate violence.”

Addressing hate violence when it happens is imperative, MAP insists. State hate crime laws provide avenues for responding to hate crimes but also highlight the challenges inherent in the criminal justice system. These challenges illustrate paths forward for both improving hate crime laws and responding more comprehensively to hate violence, the report says.

The report notes that current hate crime laws focus on punishing offenders and fail to address root causes of violence or challenge underlying biases at the individual and broader societal levels. “Additionally, harsher sentencing has not been shown to deter crime,” the MAP press release says.

The report also points to “widespread bias in the criminal justice system,” which results in “significant racial disparities, as well as disparities for LGBTQ people, people with disabilities, and low-income people,” the press release says. “These are often the very communities that are targeted for hate violence. Evidence shows that, for example, even though the majority of hate crimes are committed by white people, many states’ law-enforcement-recorded hate crimes disproportionately list Black people as offenders.”

The report says that flaws in hate crime data collection and reporting “are widespread, and the current system of federal data collection relies only on the voluntary participation of law enforcement. Additionally, victims of hate crimes may be wary of reporting the crime to the police if they do not trust the police.”

The report highlights opportunities for both improving hate crime laws and better supporting communities affected by hate violence. Suggestions for doing so include:

  • Investing in communities that are harmed by hate violence, such as people of color, LGBTQ people, people of minority faiths and disabled people.
  • Expanding nondiscrimination protections and investing in social safety nets to help reduce the instability caused by discrimination, thus reducing vulnerable communities’ exposure to potential violence.
  • Preventing violence through work that not only aims to reduce hate crimes, but also works to reduce hate and violence overall.
  • Improving law enforcement accountability and training, including addressing how law enforcement can disproportionately harm vulnerable communities.
  • Improving data collection to help connect people impacted by hate crimes to resources and support.
  • Shifting focus toward support and healing, such as through expanded measures to support victims and survivors of hate crimes, community education and response strategies, and non-carceral approaches to justice.

The partners releasing the report are: Anti-Defamation League, Asian Americans Advancing Justice — AAJC, Equality Federation Institute, James Byrd Jr. Center to Stop Hate at the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, Jews for Racial & Economic Justice, Lambda Legal, LatinoJustice PRLDEF, Matthew Shepard Foundation, National Black Justice Coalition, National Center for Lesbian Rights, National Center for Transgender Equality, National Council of Jewish Women, National Disability Rights Network, Sikh Coalition, Southern Poverty Law Center and the Union of Reform Judaism.

— Tammye Nash