Posted by Kai Wiggins on November 09, 2018 in Blog

Jeff Sessions is out at the Department of Justice. But no matter his replacement, they will likely adopt the same tepid response to the danger of hate crime. That is in part because under President Trump, hate crime is a partisan issue.

Hate crime has surged under this administration, and some Democratic leaders in Congress have said the president and other top officials bear at least some responsibility. As for the president, he maintains the administration deserves “no blame,” but nevertheless foments hatred and division with corrosive rhetoric and equivocates on the threat of white supremacist violence. As a result, Republicans seeking a strong stance on hate crime are left in an awkward position: work with Democrats, some of whom attribute the increase of hate crime to the president, and by extension, the Republican party, or pretend the problem does not exist. Seeing as President Trump has politicized the Justice Department, officials there face a similar predicament. But what comes at the expense of inaction? The FBI’s pending hate crime statistics will likely provide some insight.

Although we are nearing the end of 2018, we are awaiting the federal government’s hate crime statistics for 2017, which are due out next week. Published each November, these statistics provide insight into the nature and extent of hate crime in American communities over the previous full-year period. As required under the Hate Crime Statistics Act of 1990, the federal government collects data on crimes motivated by race or ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, disability, gender, and gender identity. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) carries out this mandate using the Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) program, which is a standardized system of crime reporting designed for state, local, and federal law enforcement. In most states, law enforcement agencies submit UCR data to a state-level program that sends the data to the FBI.

Because many state-level programs generate statistics based on the same UCR data that are sent to the FBI, and since just about half of them have released 2017 statistics, we have a sense of what the federal data will show. The number of hate crime incidents reported in these states (27 in total, plus DC) exceeds the federal government’s overall total for 2016. We can therefore expect yet another increase of hate crime according to federal statistics in 2017, just as we saw in both 2016 and 2015. This would be the first three-year consecutive annual increase reported since 2001, when hate crimes targeting Arab Americans and American Muslims, and those perceived to be Arab or Muslim, surged in the wake of 9/11.

After last month’s racist and anti-Semitic shootings in Jeffersontown, Kentucky, and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where two places of worship were targeted, many are concerned about the burgeoning threat of racism, xenophobia, and anti-Semitism in this country. While official hate crime data for this year remain scarce, the available 2017 state-level data suggest a trend: crimes motivated by race and ethnicity, along with anti-Jewish hate crimes, are on the rise. In 2016, the FBI reported a total of 684 anti-Jewish hate crime incidents. With data from just 27 states and DC, the 2017 total is 630. Not included in this total are four of the top six states in terms of Jewish population, which reported over 250 anti-Jewish hate crime incidents in 2016. Based on these considerations, we are predicting a significant increase of anti-Jewish hate crimes reported in the FBI’s 2017 statistics.

Although we are confident in these predictions, state-level statistics do not always precisely reflect the federal data. Such discrepancies in state and federal statistics occur for multiple reasons, but often arise because state agencies receive incident reports from law enforcement after they have already submitted their collections to the FBI. When these agencies go on to publish their own state-level statistics, the data will reflect these additional incidents.

But no matter what the data show, the federal government must demonstrate a greater commitment to preventing hate crime and addressing the threat. Hate crime should not be a partisan issue. Republican and Democratic members of Congress can and should work together on this effort. One thing they can do is pass legislation to improve the data collected under the Hate Crime Statistics Act and published in the FBI’s annual report. This legislation should incentivize hate crime reporting for law enforcement and tie federal funding to the provision of accurate data. As for the Justice Department, nothing short of a firm, clear-eyed response is acceptable. Although career officials at the Civil Rights Division and other components have maintained a strong position on hate crime, leadership must prove they are up to the task.

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