Miami Beach police charged a man Monday with attempted arson after he threatened to burn down a condominium and “kill all the Jews” inside. On July 12, a woman beat a Hispanic man with a brick in Los Angeles and told him to go back to his country. In June, a man harassed a woman in Chicago in a public park for wearing a shirt with the Puerto Rico flag on it.
Though relatively rare, hate crimes have seen an increase in cities across the USA. In California alone, the number spiked 44 percent between 2014 and 2017, up to 1,093 hate crimes last year, the state’s attorney general’s office reported last week.
The total number of hate crimes in the 10 largest cities in America jumped in 2017, marking four straight years for an uptick in such incidents.
The Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University found a 12.5 percent increase in incidents reported by police last year in Chicago, Dallas, Houston, Los Angeles, New York, Philadelphia, Phoenix, San Antonio, San Diego and San Jose, California.
The number of hate crimes reported in those cities totaled 1,038, up from 923 in 2016, according to the May study. In New York, nearly half of hate crimes last year were committed against Jewish people. In Los Angeles, gay men were targeted most. And in Boston the largest demographic hit by hate crimes were African Americans.
Brian Levin, co-author of the report, attributed the recent increases to greater “incivility” in national politics, citing policies such as President Donald Trump’s travel ban from several majority-Muslim countries.
National events can also spur these types of crimes, according to Heidi Beirich, director of the intelligence project at the Southern Poverty Law Center. After the September 11, 2001 terror attacks, crimes against Muslim people were rampant, Beirich said. The FBI reported 8,063 hate crimes in 2000 and 9,730 in 2001.
“We know there can be triggering events and there can also be public figures who demonize vulnerable populations,” Beirich said.
Hate crimes are considered criminal acts motivated by prejudice based on race, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, gender identity and disability.
Levin also cited long-term increases in hate crime rates to demographic changes across the country, especially population increases in minority groups. According to the Pew Research Center, growth among Hispanic communities has accounted for half of USA population increase since 2000.
San Jose saw a 300 percent increase in hate crimes between 2014 and 2017, up to 44 hate crimes last year from 11 in 2014. Philadelphia rose more than 200 percent in the same time period, and Phoenix experienced a 25 percent increase.
The Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism forecasts a decline in hate crimes for the first half of 2018 from last year.
“You didn’t have the kind of conflicting election that you had in 2016 or a big terrorist attack,” Levin said.
Levin also referenced the Unite the Right rallies in Charlottesville in 2017 as another event that could have fueled hate crimes.
Levin said he cannot make predictions for the second half of 2018 because election years – including influential midterms – often lead to an uptick.
“Because of the election coming up and because of the uncertainty in the political world domestically as well as internationally, I would love to forecast a decline, but it’s kind of like being in the sixth inning of an Angels game,” Levin said. “We’re ahead three to nothing in the sixth, but all the big batters are coming up in the last three innings.”
Hate crimes increased in 2016, 2014, 2012, 2010 and 2008, according to the study.
The report also points to Russian-based ads on social media – using data from a USA TODAY analysis – as a catalyst for spikes in hate crimes. The rise in hate crimes in late 2016 was linked to a growth in Russian Facebook ad purchases designed to promote stereotypes about Muslim communities in the U.S.
“These stereotypes play a role in identifying who is accepted by the overall community as a legitimate target for aggression or derision,” Levin said. The Department of Justice declined to comment on the rise of hate crimes in the U.S.
Beirich said it is hard to address the rising rates of hate crimes especially because so many go unreported. According to the FBI, in 2015 law enforcement agencies reported 5,850 hate crimes across the country. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, which uses surveys to compile crime rates across the country, 207,880 hate crimes occurred in 2015.
“I hate to say this, but the data is so poor that it’s hard to know what hate crimes are happening in the U.S.,” Beirich said. “The data’s so bad it’s almost like a silent wave of crimes.”
One of the major challenges cities face is getting residents to report incidents.
“What if you’re a gay person in a state that doesn’t protect your employment with respect to sexual orientation and you report being a crime victim, and then you’re fired from your job,” Levin said. “Would you want to go to the police?”
Sgt. Vincent Lewis of the Phoenix Police Department said he believes his city’s increase in hate crimes is from more reporting rather than more incidents. He said greater community outreach makes more residents feel comfortable seeking help from police.
“When we have a better relationship with those communities and that education goes both ways, they start to come forward and report,” Lewis said. “That gives them a voice and allows them to come forward more often when incidents do occur.”
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