Hate crime statistics for 2008 have been released by the FBI, and they make for uncomfortable reading. Hate crimes saw a significant increase between 2007 and 2008, going from roughly 9,500 to 9,691 documented incidents. But which groups saw the sharpest increase? What are the reasons behind it? And is this indicative of a growing climate of hate and fear?
What Were the Biggest Shifts in Hate Crimes Between 2007 to 2008?
Although hate crimes against black Americans saw a small decline of just under 1 percent, racially motivated hate crimes continue to be the largest recorded category, making up over half of all reported incidents.
Crimes based on the sexual orientation or religious affiliation of the victim saw the sharpest increases, with an 11 percent rise in crimes based on a victim’s sexuality, and a 9 percent increase in hate crimes based on the victim’s religion.
Here is a breakdown of the 1,732 attacks due to anti-religious bias:
Here is a breakdown of the 1,706 attacks due to sexual-orientation bias:
Incidents involving bias against Catholics saw a large increase of around 23 percent, while attacks against those of the Jewish faith remained high. In hate crimes based on a person’s perceived or actual ethnic or national origin, the Hispanic community were victims of 64 percent of the total number of reported crimes, while anti-heterosexual attacks rose slightly with a .2 percent increase. Anti-bisexual bias crimes remained at the same level as in the previous year.
You can compare the number of hate crimes committed because of someone’s sexuality to 2007′s hate crime figures here.
Some key notes provided by the FBI on 2008′s hate crime figures are as follows:
There are, however, a couple of caveats to this.
Firstly, although President Obama signed the Matthew Shepard and James Bird Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act in October, which added sexual orientation, gender identity and disability to a list of federally protected classes, information surrounding hate crimes committed because of a victim’s gender identity will not be collected until next year. Sexual orientation and disability were already collected by the FBI from bureaus that reported those crimes.
Secondly, it is important to stress that although these figures show an overall increase in hate crimes, the FBI states that it does not “report trends in hate crime stats” from one year to the next because the number of agencies reporting hate crimes fluctuates year on year. Therefore, these numbers can only be a rough guide.
Nevertheless, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) feel that the rise is significant, commenting:
“While the increase in the number of hate crimes may be partially attributed to improved reporting, the fact that these numbers remain elevated – particularly the significant rise in the number of victims selected on the basis of religion or sexual orientation – should be of concern to every American.”
See a full breakdown of the hate crime statistics here.
Possible Reasons for the Rise in Anti-Religious and Anti-Gay Hate Crimes
There are some that believe that the rise in anti-religious and anti-gay hate crimes are, in fact, connected. When politics, religion and civil liberties intersect there is always tension, and, in this case, with the fight for gay equality and the call to maintain religious freedoms often being pitted against one another as though diametrically opposed, the debate is often highly publicized and available for all to see.
With both communities becoming more vocal on certain subjects, especially over hot-topic issues like same-sex marriage and employment rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender workers, it is logical to assume that both communities have become more visible in the wider sphere. With that comes the danger of being victim to a bias motivated crime that perhaps didn’t exist when these groups were not so frequently in the public eye.
National Rise in Hate Crimes – What Does it Mean?
Overall, a rise in hate crimes has been attributed to a combination of factors. President Obama’s induction into the Oval Office has been highlighted as one. That, combined with the financial crisis and battles over such key issues as immigration and health care reform (bringing out gay rights and abortion rights issues respectively) have, to quote the Associated Press, “made for a lethal cocktail” that some believe has resulted in the increase of hate crimes and possibly a more hate filled, violent America.
I would agree that Obama’s presidency and the circumstances in which it got underway – the financial crisis and the pressing need for health care reform – seems to have had a prism effect, bringing into focus more radical view points than has been seen by the general public in recent years, and also putting those views in the mainstream spotlight where, perhaps, more will subscribe to them.
Is America a more hateful place to live in then? I’m not sure that is strictly true. Perhaps a better question for us to ask would be: Is America a more fearful place than before? And I think the answer to this question is a definitive yes.
Afraid of terrorism, afraid of war, afraid of extremism, afraid of socialism, afraid of a loss of religious values, afraid of religious values taking over, afraid of a loss of civil rights, afraid of special rights, afraid of death panels, afraid of financial ruin… and on, and on.
This is what’s in the press, isn’t it? Fear. Fear. Fear. Everyday, we are told to be fearful. That there are rising gun sales. That the economy may not have picked up quite as well as was thought. That health care reform might lead to a government takeover. More and more. An ever present chatter. And that’s a climate in which hate breeds easily. In which bias can take over.
There is a perpetuation of fear in the media and the political spheres, and it is a dangerous circumstance from which more hate crimes certainly could emerge. If nothing else, these hate crime statistics serve, perhaps, as a warning. A warning of what might be to come as we enter a phase of more change, of striving for more equality and better conditions for all, because, as we know, nothing inspires fear quite like the threat of change, and nothing inspires hate like fear.
So, for a President who built his campaign around “change you can believe in” that doesn’t make for an easy ride, does it? And there goes that jabbering creature called fear again.
Yet, as the ADL also said this week, we are the ones who are ultimately in control of how we react to these statistics, and it is in us to change the circumstances which leave room for these crimes to breed: ignorance, intolerance and a lack of love and respect. As always, it comes back to winning hearts and minds.
But these figures make me glad, at least, that President Obama signed the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act into law this Fall, because there are 1,706 cases counted above that demonstrate why the new hate crimes law was so desperately needed.
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