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Major metropolitan areas skip on hate crimes data

Law enforcement not trained in data collection system

Sunita Sohrabji

There was a huge spike in hate crimes against Asian Americans last year, nearly doubling the number of such crimes in 2019.

Several major law enforcement regions, including Los Angeles County, New York, Miami and Chicago did not submit data for the FBI’s 2021 Uniform Crime Reports, which likely led to a dramatic under-count of hate crimes.

Law enforcement agencies are currently not mandated to report data for UCR reports: reporting is voluntary. Data for the 2021 report — released on Dec. 12 — was derived from 11,883 law enforcement agencies. 6,929 agencies — almost one third — did not provide data.

Overall, 7,303 hate crimes were reported for 2021, a drop from 2020, in which 8,263 hate crimes were recorded by the FBI.

New reporting platform

John Duran, a Southern California-based civil rights attorney and LGBTQIA activist who served on the California Hate Crimes Commission in 1987, told Ethnic Media Services that the FBI made significant changes in reporting requirements, but failed to train law enforcement personnel in the new procedures.

The new data collection system is known as National Incident-Based Reporting System. Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta issued a statement Dec. 12, saying the system was designed to provide “significantly more detailed data for each individual criminal incident.” The FBI has set out a five-year timeline and provided technical assistance and funding for the transition.

“The FBI wanted to collect more data on perpetrators and victims, to provide a more detailed composite and demographics. Unfortunately, it did not equip law enforcement for those changes with proper resources,” said Duran.

Trump and antisemitism

“As a result, hate crimes were vastly under-reported this year, in what would have been a peak year with the rise of antisemitism,” he said. “Trumpism has unleashed so much hidden hate and allowed it to come into the open.”

Duran’s statement is borne out in FBI data. In 2019, 963 hate crimes targeted Jewish Americans. This year, because of the number of agencies that did not report, anti-Semitic hate crimes dropped to 324.

Black Americans have consistently and overwhelmingly been the targets of hate: the community was subjected to 2,233 hate crimes in 2021, a drop from 2020 data, which noted 2,871 hate crimes against the community.

‘Wheel of Misfortune’

The activist attorney said he has witnessed the ebbs and flows of hate crime targets in his almost 40 years of advocacy on the issue. “I call it the Wheel of Misfortune: we see peaks in rises against specific communities,” he said, predicting that — as Republicans take the House next year — immigrants will be the targets of hate crimes and incidents.

At a news briefing Dec. 14 organized by the Act Against Hate Alliance, Duran equated the U.S.’s national discourse to a modern day “Tower of Babel.” The dizzying array of social media platforms run unfettered, with no guard rails to reign them in. “Truth suffers. If I only talk to people who look like me and think like me, I would be subjected to a lot of misinformation and disinformation about other communities, with the revival of old prejudices,” he said.

The LGBTQIA community suffered 1,084 hate crimes in 2021, including crimes against gay males and lesbians.

Nefarious intent?

Manju Kulkarni, executive director of the AAPI Equity Alliance, and co-founder of the web portal Stop AAPI Hate, believes there is no “nefarious intent” by law enforcement agencies who did not submit data this year. “I believe most state and local law enforcement agencies in California do take hate crimes very seriously.”

Despite under-reporting, FBI Uniform Crime Reports data reveals that hate crimes against the AAPI community have nearly doubled since 2019. In 2021, 305 hate crimes targeted Asian Americans, 214 targeted Sikhs, 33 targeted Pacific Islanders, 29 targeted Buddhists, and 10 targeted Hindus. Disaggregated data for other Asian sub-ethnicities is not collected by the FBI.

Stop AAPI Hate, a web portal which allows victims to self-report hate crimes or incidents, logged 4,632 reports in 2020, and 6,273 reports in 2021. The vast majority of these incidents were not hate crimes, said Kulkarni, noting that verbal harassment which makes up the bulk of reports, is not prosecuted.

One in 5 AAPI individuals have experienced some sort of hate incident amid the pandemic, she noted, adding that victims need access to resources that can help them report and heal.

Distrust of law enforcement

Amr Shabaik, Civil Rights managing attorney for the Council on American Islamic Relations’ Los Angeles chapter, said Muslim Americans are historically under-reported in FBI data collection of hate crimes because victims are often too afraid to report to law enforcement.

“There is an inherent distrust of law enforcement, which has a history of surveilling our community,” he said. In a recent case he worked on, a victim was verbally and physically attacked by his neighbor who uttered racist epithets. The victim reported the incident to LAPD.

A few days later, he was contacted by the FBI. “They said they would help him with his immigration status if he would be an informant for the community,” alleged Shabaik, noting media reports of similar incidents in other cities.

The Muslim American community, including Arab Americans who are disaggregated in the UCR report, were targeted in 171 hate crimes in 2021. This is a dramatic drop from 2019, when 273 hate crimes involved Muslim American victims.

Marshall Wong, who serves on Los Angeles’ Human Rights Commission, and is the primary author of the Commission’s 2021 report on hate crimes in Los Angeles County, noted that FBI UCR data has always been imperfect, because it is based on voluntary reporting. Previously, more than 85% of law enforcement agencies did not report crime data to the FBI. However, that number has been rising in recent years.

Amid the pandemic

The HRC dropped its own report for hate crimes in Los Angeles County in 2021 earlier this month. The number of such crimes rose by 20% in 2020 and by 23% in 2021. Wong believes the “pent-up frustration” of the Covid-19 pandemic and “the need to blame someone” for pandemic related issues such as unemployment, the housing crisis, and Covid-mandated lockdowns contributed to the jump in hate crimes.

In Los Angeles County, there were 77 reported hate crimes against Asian Americans in 2021, the largest number on record.

Hate crimes in Los Angeles are up by 13% in 2022, according to Police Chief Michael Moore, who spoke at a police commission meeting Dec. 13. Surprisingly however, Asian Americans experienced a 20% decrease, he reported.

Ethnic Media Services