Hate crimes are falling — with one exception

Published Nov. 26, 2015

According to new FBI data there were 1,621 hate crime incidents motivated by bias against black people in 2014. This makes anti-black violence the most common type of hate crime in America — there were more than twice as many hate crimes against blacks in 2014 as there were against Jews (609), whites (593) or gay men (593), the other three groups most likely to experience hate crime.

But there's some good news: Hate crimes — against nearly every group — are down considerably in the past 10 years. Hate crimes overall fell from 7,642 incidents in 2004 to 5,462 in 2014. Crimes against blacks fell from 2,731 to 1,621 in 2014.

There's one stubborn exception to this trend, though: Anti-Muslim hate crimes are essentially flat over the same period. There were 156 anti-Muslim crimes in 2004, and 154 in 2014.

There are important caveats to this data. These numbers from the FBI's Uniform Crime Reports are self-reported by local police agencies. It's pretty much universally agreed that they're an under-count.

Moreover, the FBI's hate crime statistics only include incidents where law enforcement officers find sufficient concrete evidence to determine that the perpetrator was motivated by race. Many, and perhaps the overwhelming majority, of crimes motivated in part by bias may not leave enough of an evidence trail to categorize the offense as a hate crime for legal purposes.

In 2012, for instance, the FBI reported 5,790 hate crimes in the United States. A separate data set maintained by the Bureau of Justice Statistics — which asks crime victims whether they thought they were targeted due to race, religion or other identity, regardless of whether external evidence corroborates with their claim — estimates that there were nearly 300,000 hate crime victims in the United States that year.

The BJS numbers only go through 2012, and they don't include as detailed data on the motivations of crime perpetrators as the FBI's numbers do. So despite their serious flaws, the FBI's numbers are still more useful for understanding what's happening today. And those numbers show that hate crimes overall are on the decline, as are hate crimes against black Americans, decreases which mirror a drop in all violent crime over the same period.