Conversations around race and racial justice

Hate crimes reach the highest level in more than a decade

The spike in hate crimes in 2020 follows a recent upward trend in bias incidents, and it was a 6% increase over the 7,287 bias-related offenses reported in 2019.
The spike in hate crimes in 2020 follows a recent upward trend in bias incidents, and it was a 6 percent increase over the 7,287 bias-related offenses reported in 2019.
Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images

Updated 4:55 p.m.

There were 7,759 reported hate crimes in the U.S. last year — the most in 12 years, the FBI reported this week. But some experts and advocacy groups say the true number is probably even higher.

The number of recorded bias incidents reported by the FBI was the highest since 2008, when 7,783 hate crimes were reported to the agency, federal data shows.

The spike in 2020 follows a recent upward trend in bias incidents, and it was a 6 percent increase over 2019.

Nearly two of every three hate crimes reported last year — 64 percent — were motivated by a bias against race, ethnicity or ancestry, the FBI said. Of all hate crimes, 36 percent were anti-Black or anti-African-American, 10 percent were anti-white and 9 percent were anti-Jewish.

The data also reveals an alarming increase in hate crimes in both Minnesota and the Midwest. The number of hate crimes reported to law enforcement agencies was up 38 percent in 2020 compared to the previous year.

The Anti-Defamation League is an anti-hate group that conducts education and research on the topic. David Goldenberg is its regional director, who expressed concern. Goldenberg says the data show that Black and Jewish communities continue to be the most targeted.

“There is a level brazenness that we haven't seen before. A lot of these incidents are more public than they have been in the past. People feel more empowered, or they want the crime, or they want the incident or the hate symbol to be seen in a more public way to spread that type of hate.”

The FBI numbers may not tell the whole picture because some agencies did not report hate crimes. Research also shows that 40 percent of people who experience hate crimes don't report them due to lack of trust.

"As [the Anti-Defamation League] has said time and time again, when just one individual is targeted by a hate crime, it negatively impacts the entire community, resulting in marginalized groups rightfully feeling vulnerable and under siege," said ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt in a statement.

The FBI defines a hate crime as an offense that is motivated at least in part by a bias against a victim's race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, ethnicity, gender or gender identity.

The numbers released this week represent the hate crimes reported to the FBI last year by 15,136 law enforcement agencies across the country. Some experts say the true number of hate crimes is likely higher, since not every crime is reported to law enforcement, not every agency reports its data to the FBI and many agencies report no incidents.

"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," Greenblatt added.

The increase also comes amid a rise in reported hate crimes against 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 in reported hate crimes against Asian people 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."

In a statement, Attorney General Merrick Garland said preventing and responding to hate crimes was among the Justice Department's top priorities.

"These hate crimes and other bias-related incidents instill fear across entire communities and undermine the principles upon which our democracy stands," he said. "All people in this country should be able to live without fear of being attacked or harassed because of where they are from, what they look like, whom they love or how they worship."

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