What is a hate crime?

Informally, a hate crime could be defined as a crime committed because the victim was a member of a specific demographic group. Formally, the federal definition of a hate crime was put into law by The Civil Rights Act of 1968. In this act, hate crimes were defined as crimes committed on the basis of race, color, religion or national origin, with the prerequisite that the victim be attempting to engage in one of six types of federally protected activities (activities such as acting as a juror, voting, attending school, etc.).

Although hate crimes were outlawed many years earlier, it was not until 1990 that Congress passed the Hate Crime Statistics Act, which required the attorney general (and by extension the FBI) to collect data about crimes that involve prejudice based on race, religion, sexual orientation, or ethnicity.

Since the passage of the Hate Crime Statistics Act, several other legal statutes have altered the definition of a hate crime. As a result, the FBI widened its scope for hate crime data collection. Most recently, the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr., Hate Crimes Prevention Act expanded the United States federal hate crime law to apply to crimes motivated by a victim’s actual or perceived disability, all sexual orientations, gender, and gender identity in addition to removing the requirement that a victim be carrying out a federally protected activity.

Relevant data?

USAFacts has added data on hate crimes to help shed light on the number of offenses committed annually against specific demographic groups. This data originates from the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Hate Crime Statistics program and is comprised of hate crime offenses submitted to the FBI from local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies. As with other crime statistics, the following data only represents reported crimes that meet the definition of a federal hate crime. Several findings stand out from this dataset.

Hate crimes in the US are rising after falling for many years

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Between 1996 to 2014, hate crime offenses decreased from 10,706 (3.97 offenses per 100,000 people) to 6,418 (2.01 offenses per 100,000 people). However, they've risen since 2014, reaching 8,559 offenses (2.60 offenses per 100,000 people) in 2019.

Anti-race/ethnicity/ancestry offenses increased the most, accounting for 42% of the rise in hate crime between 2014 and 2019. Anti-race/ethnicity/ancestry offenses have been the most prevalent offense since 1996.

Trends for the top three most prevalent biases

The top three categories of hate crimes are committed based on race/ethnicity/ancestry, religion, and sexual orientation. The most prevalent specific biases from each of these respective categories are anti-Black, anti-Jewish, and anti-gay (male) biases.

Anti-Black hate crimes are more than double Anti-Jewish, the second-highest 2019 bias

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Anti-Black hate crimes have fallen as both a percent of total hate crimes and on a per capita basis. From 1996 to 2019, Anti-Black offenses fell from 12.98 per 100k black individuals to 5.62 offenses per 100,000 Black individuals. Even still, Anti-Black bias was still the most common bias at 27% of all hate crimes in 2019 and was more than twice as common as Anti-Jewish — the next most common bias.

While hate crimes for most specific biases increased in between 2014 and 2019, Anti-Jewish hate crimes increased the most in nominally, from 695 offenses to 995. This 56% increase between 2014 and 2019 outpaced the overall hate crime increase of 33% over the same period.

There is a noticeable difference in the trends for crimes committed by white known offenders and Black known offenders when it comes to anti-gay hate crimes.. Anti-gay hate crimes committed by white known offenders fell from 515 offenses (0.23 offenses per 100,000 white people) in 1996 to 289 offenses (0.14 offenses per 100,000 white people) in 2019. Conversely, anti-gay hate crimes committed by Black known offenders increased from 102 offenses (0.31 offenses per 100,000 Black individuals) in 1996 to 265 offenses (0.64 offenses per 100k black individuals) in 2019.

9/11 had a permanent impact on anti-Islamic hate crimes

The expanded breakdowns for hate crime offenses also provide some context on American history; specifically, Anti-Islamic hate crimes had a significant spike in 2001 (presumably after 9/11, though the FBI only releases data on an annual basis). Between 1996 and 2000, Anti-Islamic offenses comprised an annual average of 0.3% of all hate crimes (31 offenses on an annualized basis). This jumped to 4.7% of all hate crimes (546 offenses) in 2001. Although this number fell after 2001, it has never fallen below 120 (four times the pre-2001 annual average).

Anti-Islamic hate crimes spiked after 9/11 and have never returned to pre-9/11 levels

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Two sources means both discrepancies and a clearer picture

This report uses UCR data, but that's not the only statistical program that captures the scale, severity, and impact of hate crime n the United States. An alternative program that measures crime metrics is the National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS) administered by the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS). Unlike the UCR, which compiles crime data directly from law enforcement agencies, the NCVS program is an annual survey that gathers information from households regarding crimes they have experienced in the past six months. The BJS published an explanation on where the two programs have overlap and differences. According to BJS:

The UCR Program’s primary objective is to provide a reliable set of criminal justice statistics for law enforcement administration, operation, and management. BJS established the NCVS to provide previously unavailable information about crime (including crime not reported to police), victims, and offenders.

Since the UCR and NCVS programs often report on the same metrics but have methodological differences, these numbers do not always match. At the time of last publication there were not statistically significant differences between hate crime offenses as reported by UCR and NCVS. In addition, each of these programs provide valuable data. When taken together, they provide a well-rounded picture of the state of crime in the United States.

For instance, a discrepancy between what the two programs are showing may raise questions about the accuracy of the data. Questions such as “Are a significant number of crimes going unreported to law enforcement agencies?” or “Are law enforcement agencies failing to report data to the FBI accurately?” can be more appropriately addressed when using both sources.