While the word “hate” typically suggests strong feelings of anger or dislike, its legal definition is more specific. Rather than indicating an emotional state, hate refers to bias against individuals or groups based on specific characteristics defined by the law.
Federal hate crime laws cover crimes based on a victim’s race, color, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, or disability. Some states have similar laws also protecting victims of crimes motivated by sexual orientation or gender identity.
Hate crimes typically involve violent acts, such as assault, murder, arson, vandalism, or threats or conspiracy to commit such crimes. The FBI classifies assault, murder, and intimidation as crimes against persons, and arson or vandalism as crimes against property.
The Hate Crime Statistics program captures hate crime offenses submitted to the FBI from local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies. While it’s important to note that 56% of hate crimes committed between 2010 and 2019 were not reported to the police, here are some long-term trends in reported hate crime data.
Hate crimes have risen since 2014, with anti-Black bias at the forefront
Hate crimes hit a record high of 9,730 in 2001 before declining to 5,599 in 2014, the lowest year since 1991 (the first year of the FBI’s hate crime data collection). However, hate crimes have risen since then, with 7,303 incidents reported in 2021.
The three most common types of hate crimes are those committed on the basis of race/ethnicity/ancestry, religion, and sexual orientation. Within each category, the most prevalent biases in 2021 were anti-Black, anti-Jewish, and anti-gay male.
Anti-Black bias was the most-reported type of hate crime in 2021, representing 31% of all cases. Anti-Black bias also accounted for 50% of all race-based hate crimes, down from 55% in 2000. Over the same period, anti-Jewish hate crimes decreased from 75% to 32% of all religion-based hate crimes.
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Crimes against disabled, trans, and gender non-conforming Americans are rising
Hate crimes against disabled Americans are divided into two categories: those against people with a mental disability and those against people with a physical disability. Although the two types of hate crimes do not always increase or decrease at the same time — reports have moved in opposite directions in more than a dozen years — both have risen since 1997.
Hate crimes targeting transgender Americans peaked in 2020, while those against gender non-conforming Americans peaked in 2021. In 2020, there was a significant increase of 61 hate crimes against trans Americans compared to 2019, marking the highest rise in any two-year period. Similarly, between 2020 and 2021, the largest increase of hate crimes against gender non-conforming Americans was 37 crimes.
Although hate crimes were outlawed by the Civil Rights Act of 1968, it was not until 1990 that Congress passed the Hate Crime Statistics Act, which required 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 and the FBI widened its scope for hate crime data collection as a result. Most recently, the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr., Hate Crimes Prevention Act expanded the federal hate crime law to apply to crimes motivated by a victim’s actual or perceived disability, all sexual orientations, gender, and gender identity. It also removed the requirement that a victim be carrying out a federally protected activity.