Hate-related homicides in the U.S. reached a record level last year, while hate crimes against transgender and gender-nonconforming people increased, as did crimes overall, according to a new FBI report. And, as activists point out, the report just skims the surface of such crimes.
The FBI’s 2019 Hate Crime Statistics report, released Monday, documents 7,314 crimes over the year, an increase of about 3 percent from 2018 and the biggest increase since 2008. The number of homicides more than doubled, from 24 to 51, largely because of one mass shooting — the anti-immigrant attack at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas, that had many Latinx customers. Twenty-two of that attack’s 23 victims are included in the report, while one died later, NPR notes.
Crimes based on sexual orientation amounted to 16.7 percent of the total, the same proportion as in 2018. But crimes based on gender identity increased from 2.2 percent of the total to 2.7 percent.
The report reflects only the data voluntarily submitted by law enforcement agencies to the FBI, which has been keeping track since 1991 under the Hate Crimes Statistics Act. So the report’s numbers are merely the tip of the iceberg, and it’s clear that hate crimes remain at an unacceptable level, activists said.
A total of 15,588 federal, state, city, university, and tribal law enforcement agencies sent data in — 451 fewer participants than in the 2018 report — and only 2,172 of these agencies reported one or more hate crimes, something several advocacy groups deemed not credible. “The lack of mandatory reporting means that the FBI data, while helpful, paints an incomplete picture of hate crimes against the LGBTQ and other communities,” says a press release from the Human Rights Campaign.
“Yet another year with alarming levels of bias-motivated crimes underscores just how urgent it is to address this hate crimes epidemic,” HRC President Alphonso David said in the release. “This year , we saw a tragic new record of fatal violence against transgender and gender-nonconforming people in this country, particularly against Black and brown transgender women. These alarming statistics represent real trauma for individuals and families across this country who have to bear the brunt of these hate crimes. As the Biden-Harris administration assumes office, we must recommit ourselves to advocating for mandatory hate crimes reporting across the country, better training for law enforcement officers to recognize bias-motivated crimes, and greater inclusion and equity in our communities.” Both HRC and The Advocate have documented 34 homicides of trans or gender-nonconforming people in the U.S. in 2020; those would be reflected in next year’s FBI report.
The Southern Poverty Law Center saw the increase as a reflection of the growth of white supremacist movements in the past few years. “These racist ideas are not a political anomaly but rather the most extreme outgrowth of a white supremacist political culture,” an SPLC press release notes. “That racism, anti-Hispanic sentiment, antisemitism, and homophobia remain pressing problems in the U.S. is reflected in the 2019 hate crime increases.” The SPLC has recorded a 55 percent increase in white nationalist hate groups since 2017 and a 43 percent increase in anti-LGBTQ+ groups in 2019.
It and other organizations are pushing for Congress to pass the Khalid Jabara and Heather Heyer National Opposition to Hate, Assault, and Threats to Equality Act (the NO HATE Act) to promote hate-crime training and prevention, and to help states improve hate-crime reporting and victim services. The SPLC is also calling for the incoming Biden administration to mandate federal collection of hate-crime data.
The League of United Latin American Citizens also weighed in. “Today’s numbers from the FBI prove Latinos, Blacks, the Arab, Muslim and LGBTQ communities are among those wearing a target on their back every day in America,” Domingo Garcia, LULAC’s national president,” said in a news release. “It has been placed on them because of blind hate fueled by the politics of distrust and division from President Trump and far right-wing political attacks. We urge President-elect Biden to form a task force that will have the powers to swiftly address this danger with the FBI and local law enforcement.”