Hate violence is on the rise, but we aren’t getting the information we need to prevent it. In fact, the FBI’s latest report reveals just how inconsistent hate crime reporting across the country still is. In 2018, only about 12 percent of law enforcement agencies reported incidents of hate crimes, yet intimidation, assaults and homicides rose to a 16-year high, with nearly one in five hate crimes fueled by homophobia and transphobia. While this has sparked a renewed discussion about the need for sufficient data when hate violence occurs, a key component of that conversation is missing. To improve our ability to hold systems of power accountable for keeping us safe, we need to acknowledge the value of data about how existing hate crimes laws are really working.
As the federal government continuously attempts to roll back nationwide civil rights protections, advocates across the country are rightly responding by pushing state and local lawmakers to implement new safeguards that protect and affirm our identities. While it’s promising to witness new laws being passed to support LGBTQ people and all other communities who experience heightened levels of targeted violence, lawmakers’ duties do not end with the passage of new laws. We deserve to know what effect these laws have on us once they are implemented. And if violence is reaching record highs despite the current legal protections in place, we need a more critical examination to understand why this is happening and how we can stop it.
The benefit of gathering more information about existing hate crimes laws boils down to this: Visibility leads to accountability. The full picture that we get from having accurate data helps establish an important precedent for the future. When our representatives create policies that have a lasting impact on our safety and the way we live our lives, they will know that their commitment doesn’t end after a bill is passed, but that they are also responsible for tracking and sharing information about its success or failure. As part of that, the data and the visibility that it affords us can be a catalyst for needed change, one that will improve the strategies intended to keep our communities safe. If current hate crimes policies aren’t actually preventing the violence committed against those most at risk, then it’s past time lawmakers look into enacting policies that will help do a better job.
What’s more, analyzing existing anti-violence laws is a chance for states to lead where the federal government is falling behind. From the refusal to expand LGBTQ data collection efforts in the upcoming census, to restricting information about LGBTQ foster youth and parents, there’s no sign that the current administration intends to slow its long and disturbing campaign of LGBTQ erasure. That’s why right now, it’s time for state and local lawmakers to do more. In a time when fear is rising and murders of trans women of color are soaring, we are looking for proof that elected officials will take action to mitigate the harm that the federal administration is causing.
As we continue to explore the concept of amassing data on the effectiveness of existing hate crimes laws, the Hate Crimes Analysis & Review Act is a tangible example of how it could work. This legislation was expressly created to study the impact of New York State’s hate crimes provision. It would do so by requiring New York to collect — and make public — detailed demographic information about victims as well as alleged perpetrators of hate crimes, including their sexual orientation and gender identity. Collecting and sharing this kind of data will not only reveal whether New York’s hate crimes law is successfully preventing violence against those it exists to protect; it will also make a strong statement about how the state values New Yorkers at risk of hate violence, defying the federal administration’s constant efforts to dismiss and erase the lives of LGBTQ people.
It's important to remember that we, as a diverse and vibrant community, have the power and the right to demand visibility. The FBI’s report is yet another reminder that LGBTQ people, and people at the intersection of multiple marginalized identities, are at an especially high risk of hate violence. Our efforts to solve such a longstanding problem must be thoughtful, comprehensive and continuous, and we must trust that we will ultimately win. If we make a commitment to think critically about, and improve, the work that is currently being done to prevent hate crimes, we may see different statistics in the years to come.
Trevon Mayers is the Director of Policy & Community Outreach at The LGBT Community Center in New York City.