In the wake of the country’s deadliest attack on Jewish people in my hometown of Pittsburgh last month, it came as no surprise that when the FBI released its crime statistics this week, they showed another year of increased hate crimes.
Hate crimes overall were up 17 percent last year – and religion-based hate crimes increased 23 percent. The 1,564 crimes reported in 2017 was the second highest number of religion-based crimes ever, surpassed only by the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
One out of every five hate crimes targeted someone because of their religion and three out of five targets were due to race or ethnicity. Of the more than 7,000 incidents reported last year, 2,013 targeted black Americans, 938 targeted Jewish Americans, and 1,130 targeted LGBTQ people.
Hate crimes against Jews rose 37 percent last year – which is alarming enough, but the Anti-Defamation League’s own audit of anti-Semitic incidents in 2017 showed a 57 percent spike – “the largest single-year increase on record and the second highest reported since ADL started to keep track in 1979.”
The FBI has noted one reason for the spike is that more local law enforcement agencies are reporting hate crimes. At the same time, critics said hate crimes still are vastly underreported. Consider:
- Charlottesville, Va. – the site of the clash between white nationalists and counter-protestors in August 2017 – reported no hate crimes from July to September of that year, despite the murder of Heather Heyer and the injuries of at least 35 others.
- No hate crime homicides were reported in Oregon last year, even though a man was indicted for fatally stabbing two men and wounding another when they came to the defense of two teenagers at whom the alleged stabber was directing anti-Muslim and racist slurs.
- The FBI indicates no hate crimes occurred in Olathe, Kan., last year, even though a man was convicted of federal hate crime charges after shooting two Indian men, killing one, whom he considered to be Middle Eastern “terrorists.”
This missing data leads me to question one category where the FBI reports hate crimes actually decreased: Supposedly Anti-Islamic hate crimes declined 11 percent last year, with 273 such incidents. Yet the South Asian Americans Leading Together organization reported that hate crimes against Muslims, Arabs and those often perceived to be Muslim and Arab (including Sikhs) increased 45 percent in 2017 from the previous year (SAALT’s time period begins and ends in November).
Despite the erratic figures from the FBI, the bottom line is clear: Hate crimes are increasing in America at an alarming rate, and this rise corresponds with the burgeoning white Christian nationalist movement in America – a movement that has been emboldened by the anti-Muslim, anti-Semitic, xenophobic rhetoric coming from President Donald Trump and some of his advisers.
One of America’s founding principles is freedom of religion, and we at Americans United won’t stand idly by while hate and violence make anyone afraid to practice their faith or afraid to be nonreligious. We will continue our work in the halls of Congress, in state legislatures, within the administration and in courthouses nationwide to ensure that everyone has the right to believe or not, to worship or not, and to do so in safety.