Startling Stats: Are Hate Crimes Overdone?

Startling Stats: Are Hate Crimes Overdone?

Part two of Mediaverse hate crime series

The Mediaverse by Dennis Kneale, TruthDAO opinion columnist

In May 2021, U.S. Attorney General Merrick B. Garland and Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro N. Mayorkas testified to the U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee that the

greatest domestic threat facing our country came from white supremacists.

As a white person, I keep wondering: where are they? The two U.S. officials weren’t talking about Antifa, which played a role in more than 500 violent riots in the 2020 election year, often from inside one of some 4,000 peaceful protests by Black Lives Matter supporters in the wake of George Floyd’s death in police custody.

It is a dubious, overly broad claim. The statistics on hate crimes show the problem is overstated, the relative number of hate crimes is lower than many people would assume, and the vast majority of reported incidents involve harsh language or shunning rather than violence.

The media have a hard time pointing this out, lest they be criticized for putting forth a “white” view that is insensitive to the concerns of anti-racism activists, who garner publicity and better fundraising by speaking out. I have written previously about the media’s uncomfortable approach to covering race asan element in crime, or when a black politician derided whites.

Last month, the FBI released hate-crime statistics for 2021: 7,262 total incidents, involving 9,024 victims, in a country of 330 million people. The numbers are understated somewhat because only 11,883 of 18,812 law enforcement agencies reported. A database changeover impeded data sharing.

Even if you double the number of cases, however, the total still is somewhat small.

Of these 9,000 victims, most were in the 18-to-34-year-old age group, as were most hate-crime offenders, many of whom commit offenses for the “thrill” and out of “boredom,” studies suggest. FBI stats show 65% were targeted for their race, ethnicity or ancestry, with black people comprising 63% of that 65% subset.

Anti-white reports were at 13% of the total race-based subset, Hispanics at 6.1%. Asians, despite reports of high rates of offenses against them since the Covid-19 pandemic, were only 4.3% of all race-based incidents, albeit higher than their 7% makeup of the U.S. population.

As for the perpetrators of hate crimes in which their race was known, the feds count a total 6,561 offenders in 2021. Some 56% of them were white (on par with the U.S. population), blacks comprised 21% (vs. 13% of the population), and Asians just 66 perps or 0.1% of the population.

Here is a surprising fact: “hate crimes against Asian Americans are more likely… to be committed by non-White offenders,” than are hate crimes against blacks and Hispanics, says one study. It was published in the Journal of American Justice in January 2021, and it reviewed all hate crimes  reported from 1992 to 2014.

The report says over 25% of attacks on Asian Americans were perpetrated by non-whites, compared with only 1% for blacks and 19% for Hispanics.

The authors suggest other people of color may resent Asians as the “model minority.” They note that Asian Americans in 2015 had median household income of $77,166, 23% more than white households, 70% more than Hispanics, and more than double that of black families. “Their success may be perceived as potential threats by members of other racial groups.”

This may be one reason why the U.S. media dropped the story of attacks on Asians as the Covid pandemic ebbed, as video of random attacks on Asians by black assailants ran on Twitter.

The media revived the theme, though, after two mass shootings in two Asian communities, perpetrated separately by two elderly Asian men, as I wrote here.  Go figure.

Another government report, by the Bureau of Justice Statistics in the Department of Justice, studied hate-crime data from 2004 to 2015 and found zero statistical change in the rate of incidents over that period. It cited an average of 250,000 “hate crime victimizations” per year or 0.7 per 1,000 people. But 99% of these incidents involved “offenders’ use of hate language as evidence of a hate crime,” the report states.

Wait, so, only 2,500 offenses a year involved a violation that was worse than mere words? When I was raising my daughter, I always her to ignore namecallers: “Sticks and stones will break my bones, but names will never hurt me.” And please note: in the U.S., hate speech falls short of qualifying as a crime, and the First Amendment bans government from imposing a prior restraint on it by criminalizing it.

The same study also says that almost 5,000 “known hate crime offenders committed  crimes against persons in 2019,” and 75% of the offenses involved intimidation or “simple assault” (shaking a first at someone or slapping them). The total included only 19 murders nationwide.

Racism remains a serious problem in various aspects across American society, but it’s important that the coverage reflect the data rather than just the feelings of those involved in the debate. The U.S. justice system is a primary focus for attention and reform. The media make it harder for us to arrive at sound solutions, though, when they ignore the data and simply repeat the protestations of politicians who are plying a point rather than following the facts.

Dennis Kneale, @denniskneale on Twitter, is a media strategist and writer in New York. He spent more than 30 years at The Wall Street Journal, Forbes, CNBC, and Fox Business. His podcast is called "What's Bugging Me."