The deluge of hate crimes unleashed by Donald Trump’s presidency continued unabated during 2019, according to statistics just released by the FBI: The numbers of bias-motivated crimes in the U.S. rose to the highest level in more than a decade, with some 7,314 incidents reported, and increase of about 3 percent in an already elevated plateau that began after Trump’s election. It was also the deadliest year on record for hate crimes, part of a trend toward increasing attacks on persons and increasing lethality.
However, the most disturbing trend uncovered in the statistics suggests that this floodtide has been accompanied by a notable decline among law-enforcement agencies who take hate crimes seriously. As the Anti Defamation League observed in its response to the FBI report: “The data reveals a harrowing trend of increasing hate crimes being reported in the United States, even as fewer law enforcement agencies provided data to the FBI.”
This marks the second straight year in which participation by law enforcement in providing the data—a voluntary reporting effort encouraged by federal statute—has declined. The FBI reports that 86 percent of participating agencies failed to report a single hate crime in 2019, including about 70 cities with populations over 100,000. Only about 14 percent—just over 2,000 out of 15,000 participating agencies—reported any hate crimes at all.
Hate-crimes statistics are already badly flawed because of the continuing issues of underreportage and underenforcement of bias crimes. While annual reports show relatively steady annual numbers in the 6,000-8,000 range, experts estimate that the actual numbers of such crimes is around 50,000.
A ProPublica report in 2017 explained in great detail why and how America fails at accurately gathering complete information about hate crimes in this country. It begins with a police culture that is skeptical of the laws and the need to enforce them and continues through the cold realities that vulnerable minorities—particularly immigrants, LGBTQ folk, and most people of color—fear reporting these crimes because they fear becoming victims all over again. They fear retaliation from the perpetrators, they fear the police and how their cases will be handled, they fear broader social and legal repercussions simply for being drawn into the world of law enforcement (especially LGBTQ people and immigrants), and they fear being accused of faking the crimes—which has become a common refrain among right-wing pundits seeking to undermine concern about these crimes.
“The total severity of the impact and damage caused by hate crimes cannot be fully measured without complete participation in the FBI’s data collection process,” ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt said. “We are working with our partners to improve hate crime data reporting. While some of the increase in 2019 may be the product of better reporting in some jurisdictions, it is critical to improve training at local law enforcement agencies across the country. We also need to remove the barriers that too often prevent people in marginalized communities—the individuals most likely to suffer hate crimes—from reporting hate-based incidents in the first instance. 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.”
The ProPublica report found that only 12 states require police, during academy training, to learn how to identify and investigate hate crimes. Moreover, very few agencies provide training after officers leave the academy.
The problem is exacerbated by an increasingly partisan conservativism in police cultures, manifested by the open hostility of many officers to civil-rights groups such as Black Lives Matter critical of their treatment of black arrestees, as well as their continuing use of disproportionate force to handle such protests. This has created increasing tensions in communities such as Portland, Oregon, where police have lost credibility for their ongoing failures to take hate crimes seriously, as well as to treat leftist protesters with increasing brutality.
The Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino, examined the 2019 statistics and found that, if anything, the trends toward increasing personal attacks (as opposed to property or other crimes) and rising lethality observed previously has, if anything, worsened:
The 2019 increases in hate crime were far more precipitous among the most violent offenses—homicides and assaults; those directed toward certain target groups, like Jews and Latinos; and in some of the nation’s largest cities. These 2019 overall hate crime totals represent an increase of 194 incidents or 2.72% over the prior year and the most since 2008, when there were 7,783.
… Of person directed crimes, FBI hate homicides rose most sharply to a record 51, more than double 2018 levels, as single assailant mass domestic terror attacks by white supremacists became increasingly more lethal. Last year was the third consecutive annual rise in a series of sharp increases in hate homicides enumerated by the FBI.
The increasingly lethal nature of hate crimes is reflected in the incidents themselves. The August 2019 attack on Latinos in a Walmart store in El Paso, Texas, left 23 dead, making it the most lethal single hate-based homicide event since the FBI began tallying such events in the early 1990s.
It also observed that, while recent bias-motivated mass killers have been radicalized young adults such as 21-year-old Patrick Crusius, the El Paso killer, a recent multi-decade longitudinal University of Maryland study found that these perpetrators, with a median age of 36, are older relative to other violent hate offenders. The Maryland BIAS study further found that these mass killers are more likely to act alone, be married, have a military service record, higher educational achievement, and a violent criminal history.
Of all the single categories of hate crimes, white supremacist/far-right-extremist-motivated homicides saw the greatest increase for the third consecutive year in 2019. “These racist killers dominated the overall category of ‘extremist motivated’ homicides with a total higher than that of all extremist killings combined for 2018,” the CSUSB report said.
"Not only are hate crimes rising from elevated levels not seen in over a decade, they are increasingly more lethal and violent as white nationalists and other grievance sectors become more aggressive," Brian Levin of the CSUSB center told Daily Kos. "Of concern is the across the board increase in assaults, even among groups experiencing overall declines."