2022 Hate Crimes Data: One Snapshot of a Larger Picture

December 7, 2023CJ Wechsler

The FBI recently released 2022 Hate Crime statistics for the nation. Hate crime is defined as a committed criminal offense which is motivated, in whole or in part, by the offender's biases against a race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, ethnicity, gender, or gender identity. The data shows an unsettling increase in overall reported hate crimes from 10,891 in 2021 to 11,643 in 2022, including an alarming 36.4 percent increase in anti-Jewish incidents, from 824 to 1,124, respectively. (Note, this data only covers 2022, so the current, disturbing surge in antisemitism, Islamophobia, and anti-Arab hate in response to the Israel-Hamas war is not captured).

While the FBI report provides a useful datapoint for analyzing hate in the United States, the report is imperfect and must be analyzed in broader context. The 2022 spike in reported hate crimes occurred despite only 77.6 percent of participating law enforcement agencies reporting their data to the FBI -- the fifth consecutive year of declining reporting from agencies. Last year, we emphasized the concerning impact of this widespread, institutional underreporting and the need to mandate hate crime reporting. Moreover, the report is likely incomplete due to the process of how individuals must report hate crimes; the Department of Justice's Bureau of Statistics finds about 54 percent of hate crimes were not reported from 2011 to 2015. Because victims must first report the crime to local law enforcement, accurate hate crime reporting relies on a positive, functional relationship between marginalized communities and law enforcement. We must understand these relationships and their impact on data collection, because accurate data facilitates the development of effective policies to address and prevent hate crimes.

Even as FBI data likely falls short of capturing the full scope of anti-Jewish incidents, the report still provides a useful representation of the scope of antisemitism, due in large part to the working relationship many Jewish communities have established with law enforcement in the United States. For example, local police provide security for synagogues and Jewish institutions. Prominently, national Jewish organizations such as the Anti-Defamation League and Secure Community Network foster trust between the community and law enforcement, encouraging partnership between Jewish institutions and local police. They promote this relationship for the sake of the safety and security of Jewish institutions nationwide, and it also likely contributes to more comprehensive hate crime data.

That said, the Jewish community is not exempt from systemic underreporting, particularly considering how diversity within the Jewish community leads to disparate relationships with law enforcement. While most Jewish institutions welcome the presence of security, this does not instill the intended sense of safety in some Jewish people of color, who make up 12-15 percent of the American Jewish population. This reality became particularly salient following the 2018 Pittsburgh synagogue massacre, after which Jewish institutions had to take further steps to protect against the violence of white supremacy and largely turned to increased presence of police. Black Jews from many corners of American Jewry spoke up about how this presence does not instill the intended sense of safety, but rather the opposite. We would be remiss to analyze the hate crime data and not consider how a demographic breakdown of the reporting victims would possibly show disparities across difference of race and ethnicity due to differing relationships with law enforcement.

Similarly, the data are likely less reliable for other communities that may not have as strong relationships with law enforcement. For example, in a 2017 Pew Research Center survey, 6 percent of Muslim Americans said they were physically threatened or attacked in 2016. Based on the size of the Muslim population in the United States at the time -- approximately 3.45 million -- this would suggest that thousands of Muslims were victims of hate crimes; however, the FBI recorded just 310 anti-Islamic hate crimes in 2016. Instances such as the New York Police Department's controversial Muslim Surveillance Program have eroded trust between the Muslim community and law enforcement agencies. This program, initiated in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, unjustly profiled and targeted Muslim individuals and institutions based solely on their religious affiliation. As a result, widespread mistrust and fear permeated the Muslim community. The surveillance program sent a chilling message: Muslim individuals and institutions would be under scrutiny simply because of their faith, regardless of their innocence. This profound breach of trust, amongst others across the country, has far-reaching consequences for the relationship between the Muslim community and law enforcement agencies, and hate crime reporting is no exception. In the context of this systemic distrust, the 158 total recorded anti-Islamic incidents included in the FBI's 2022 hate crime data is likely incomplete, leading to a distorted picture of the true extent of anti-Islamic hate crimes. 

Similarly, the FBI data show only 194 reported anti-American Indian or Alaska Native Indigenous incidents. The historical forced displacement of Indigenous peoples from their ancestral lands -- including policies as recent as the Indian Relocation Act of 1956 and subsequent urban relocation programs of the 1950s and 60s, which pressured relocation from reservations to cities across the country with largely unfulfilled promises of financial and employment support -- has contributed to a profound and enduring distrust of public institutions, such as schools, healthcare, and law enforcement. Studies show that this distrust is deeply embedded and passed down through generations. The intergenerational distrust significantly distorts the picture of hate crimes against Indigenous Americans in the FBI's data. For her 2008 book "Silent Victims: Hate Crimes Against Native Americans," Dr. Barbara Perry, professor and Director of the Centre on Hate, Bias and Extremism at Ontario Tech, interviewed nearly 300 Native Americans across the United States . She found only around 10% of hate crimes against Native Americans are reported to law enforcement authorities, largely because of "historical and contemporary experience with the police, and the perception they do not take Native American victimization seriously."

The current administration's Department of Justice has recently catalyzed steps to mend these relationships. In September 2022, U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland announced the United Against Hate (UAH) Community Outreach Program. The program's goals are to increase community understanding and reporting of hate crimes; build trust between communities and law enforcement; and create stronger alliances to prevent and combat hate crimes. During the last year, all 94 U.S. Attorneys' Offices (UAO) participated, hosting over 200 events with over 6,000 participants nationwide. Of note, over 30 of these events focused on issues faced by local Jewish communities and places of worship. The following testimonial from the UAO of Western District of Michigan shows the potential remarkable impact of the events:

"On June 8, 2023, we hosted a virtual UAH event with Jewish leaders across the district. About a week later, on June 16th, a 19-year-old suspect was arrested by the FBI for making antisemitic threats of a mass shooting targeting a local synagogue. The rabbi of the targeted synagogue had participated in our UAH meeting and had a direct line of communication with the U.S. Attorney. Not only did UAH strengthen the office's relationship with the targeted synagogue, but it helped build trust and goodwill with Jewish leaders and community members across the district and state."

The events feature a range of topics, audiences, and settings. Many are specific and responsive to the community the UAO serves. For example, the UAO of New Mexico hosted a listening session with members of the Afghan and Muslim communities after a string of murders impacted those communities. The UAH program is a start to rectifying the broken relationship between law enforcement and the communities they are entrusted to protect.

The accuracy of all hate crime data is vital for effective policy development and law enforcement strategies. Reliable data is the cornerstone upon which legislation and policies are built; without accurate data, we cannot address the root causes of bias-motivated offenses, allocate resources effectively, or track the progress of our efforts to reduce hate crimes. For marginalized communities, the systemically degraded trust with those entrusted to protect them presents a significant barrier to achieving justice and equity. It is imperative to recognize the importance of working toward equitable relationships between marginalized communities and law enforcement to ensure accurate hate crime data and, ultimately, a more just society.

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