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Deadly hate crime levels surge in latest FBI reporting

Hate crime reports in America surged in 2019 to the highest level since 2008, according to new data released on Monday by the FBI.

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Josh Campbell
CNN — Hate crime reports in America surged in 2019 to the highest level since 2008, according to new data released on Monday by the FBI.

In its annual report on national hate crime statistics, the FBI found that murders classified as hate crimes more than doubled from 2018 to 2019, with 51 people killed last year in incidents motivated by hate.

The new figures released on Monday by the FBI indicate that hate crimes reported to the FBI by US law enforcement agencies around the country have mostly increased during the presidency of Donald Trump. Between 2016 and 2017, the FBI found a 17% spike in reported incidents. The number of hate crime incidents dipped slightly in 2018 before jumping again, according to the new statistics.

The latest report found that 7,314 criminal hate crime incidents were reported to the FBI in 2019, an increase of 194 incidents since 2018.

The current total included 7,103 hate crime incidents involving a single identified type of bias against a perpetrator's victims, and 211 incidents involved more than one type of bias motivating the perpetrator.

Of the single-bias hate crimes reported in 2019:

57.6% of reported incidents were motivated by the offenders' race/ethnicity/ancestry bias19.9% were motivated by the offenders' religious bias16.8% were motivated by the offenders' sexual-orientation bias2.7% were motivated by the offenders' gender identity bias2% were motivated by the offenders' disability bias

The data released on Monday showed that bias against African Americans overwhelmingly comprised the largest category of reported hate crime offenses pertaining to race, with a total of 48.4% of those crimes motivated by anti-Black or African American bias. An offense is defined as a specific action against persons, property or society, and reported hate crime incidents can contain more than one offense, according to an FBI spokesperson.

The new data also showed that bias against Jews comprised 60.3% of reported offenses motivated by religion, followed by 13.3% of reported offenses targeting Muslims. Among people targeted due to sexual orientation, 62.2% of reported offenses involved anti-gay bias against males.

"In this pivotal moment in our national conversation about the importance of justice for communities of color, religious minorities, and the LGBTQ+ community, we must make combating hate crimes a top priority," said Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO of the Anti-Defamation League.

The President fans the flames

While the latest hate crime figures from the FBI capture information collected in 2019, their release comes during a year marked by widespread calls for racial equality in policing, numerous attacks against Asian Americans throughout the deadly coronavirus pandemic, and as Trump frequently used racist language and characterizations of minority communities while on the campaign trail.

Following the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police, Trump called racial justice protesters "thugs" and amplified claims that demonstrators were terrorists.

"When the looting starts, the shooting starts," the President tweeted, invoking a phrase used by a 1960's-era Miami police chief who has been roundly criticized as a racist based on his tough policing efforts in the city's Black neighborhoods. Trump's tweet was later flagged by Twitter for glorifying violence.

During the course of the coronavirus pandemic, which has claimed over 246,000 American lives, Trump was criticized for his racist language when he repeatedly referred to the disease as the "kung flu." Trump has denied being a racist, and White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany defended the President's use of the phrase as merely pointing out that the virus originated in China.

In April, FBI Director Christopher Wray warned that his agency was "concerned about the potential for hate crimes by individuals and groups targeting minority populations in the United States who they believe are responsible for the spread of the virus." CNN has reported on numerous instances of Asian Americans being targeted or assaulted by perpetrators accusing them of spreading coronavirus.

During his reelection campaign, in addition to refusing to forcefully condemn white supremacists and other fringe movements, Trump frequently insinuated to suburban voters that an influx of low-income people of color in their communities would result in more crime.

"I am happy to inform all of the people living their Suburban Lifestyle Dream that you will no longer be bothered or financially hurt by having low income housing built in your neighborhood," Trump tweeted in July.

Despite trafficking in racist language and attempting to whip up fear against minorities -- from his "birtherism" claims about former President Barack Obama, to calling Mexican immigrants rapists, to instituting a ban on travel from Muslim-majority countries -- Trump has insisted he is the "least racist person."

President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris will face significant challenges in quelling the surge of hate crimes and division in the United States when they take office in January.

In addition to battling Covid-19, jump starting a struggling economy and fighting climate change, the new Biden-Harris administration lists racial equality as one of its core transition priorities.

"Economic and racial inequities have shaped us for generations," Biden said in his October Gettysburg speech. "But I give you my word, [as] president, I will marshal the ingenuity and good will of this nation to turn division into unity and bring us together."

Civil rights organizations agree that stopping the soaring rates of hate crimes is paramount.

"Especially given the dangerously divisive political climate of the past four years, we should be reckoning with the problem of hate in America -- not continuing to sweep it under the rug," The Sikh Coalition, the nation's largest Sikh civil rights organization, said in a statement.

A flawed system

The FBI has been collecting hate crime data from law enforcement departments and agencies across the United States since 1990. However, participation in the bureau's annual reporting program remains voluntary -- a fact that critics say equates to a flawed system of accurately identifying the actual number of crimes in the country that are motivated by hate.

As CNN has previously reported, figures submitted by law enforcement agencies to the FBI often have differing definitions of what constitutes a hate crime and can be riddled with errors.

Relying on individual police agencies to have enough resources and good will to report hate crimes leaves holes in the data. And experts say that makes it difficult, if not impossible, to understand the full scope of hate in America.

"Unsurprisingly, the new numbers do not tell the full story," said Margaret Huang, president of the Southern Poverty Law Center. "Hate crimes are consistently underreported due to the federal government's failure to mandate hate crime data collection at the state and local levels. 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."

The new data from the FBI showed that the number of law enforcement agencies participating in the agency's hate crimes statistics collection effort has continually declined in the past three years.

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