Hate Crimes Rise in 2008 – Is America a More Hateful, Fearful Place?

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:

  • 66.1 percent were targeted because of an offender’s anti-Jewish bias.
  • 7.5 percent were victims because of an anti-Islamic bias.
  • 5.1 percent were victims because of an anti-Catholic bias.
  • 3.6 percent were victims because of an anti-Protestant bias.
  • 0.8 percent were targeted because of an anti-Atheist/Agnostic bias.
  • 12.8 percent were victims because of a bias against other religions (anti-other religion).
  • 4.0 percent were victims because of a bias against groups of individuals of varying religions (anti-multiple religions, group).

Here is a breakdown of the 1,706 attacks due to sexual-orientation bias:

  • 57.5 percent were victims of an offender’s anti-male homosexual bias.
  • 27.3 percent were victims because of an anti-homosexual bias.
  • 11.6 percent were victims because of an anti-female homosexual bias.
  • 2.0 percent were victims because of an anti-heterosexual bias.
  • 1.6 percent were victims because of an anti-bisexual 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:

  • 5,542 offenses were classified as crimes against persons. Intimidation accounted for 48.8 percent of those crimes, simple assaults for 32.1 percent, and aggravated assaults for 18.5 percent. Seven murders were reported as hate crimes.
  • 3,608 offenses were classified as crimes against property. The majority (82.3 percent) were acts of destruction/damage/vandalism. The remaining 17.7 percent consisted mainly of robbery, burglary, larceny-theft, motor vehicle theft, and arson.
  • Of the 6,927 known offenders, 61.1 percent were white, 20.2 percent were black, and 11.0 percent were of an unknown race.

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.

Related Care2 Posts:
An Open Letter to President Obama
Teacher Accused of Putting ‘Hit’ Out on Supposed Gay Student

Image taken from the FBI website.


Meredith D.
Meredith D8 years ago

wow, what an unclear poll question. is it more hateful/fearful than what or when or where? what does that mean? are we comparing to pre-obama america? or to dubya-era america? or to only 2007 america? found the article interesting. just need some clarification on the question, that's all.

John Bauer
Past Member 8 years ago

I know I witnessed a lot of anti-jewish hate because of Israel invading Lebanon and killing their help. I knwo that America backs up Israel, but unfortunately, when you have family in Lebanon, you see thinks how they reall are. And when the U.N. even sees that Israel was stopping air from getting into Lebanon and even killing the medics, those are war tactics similar to Hitler. The Lebanese didn't do anything, they are just Christians who want the land that Israel stole from them. My wife's family owns most of what is considered Lower Galilee, but they cannot get to it because Isarael claimed the land. Here is my hatred towards Jews: If I convert to become a Jew, I am allowed to move to Israel, take over someone else's land, and build a house. That land is not mine nor is that truely the land of my ancestors. It is a total farce and after seeing and reading how this works, if I had land and someone moved onto it and kicked me out by force, I would fight back as well.

Marishka k.
Marishka k8 years ago

so sad

Sarah D.
Sarah D8 years ago

America needs to grow a back bone.

Lynn Miller
Lynn M8 years ago

America needs to disband the hate crime perpetrators. It is both disgusting and horrifying how many gangs and much larger hate groups exist today and are growing ever stronger by numbers too large to imagine. It's frightening but let us not forget the Holocaust... the catalyst was one single man. We must stop and bring the guilty to justice. One nation.....indivisable by all.

tw P.
tw Pol8 years ago


Eunice F.
Eunice F8 years ago

Daniel W.,
If we follow your logic, this country would be broken up into a countless number of smaller "countries." It's an unreasonable solution that will never work out.

Jessica S.
Jessica S8 years ago


Terry M.
Terry M8 years ago

I wonder who, meaning which race, is committing the majority of these crimes? I'll give you one guess...........If we can get them to stop being so hateful and thinking that they own the US and no one else has any rights but them, then maybe we could all live in peace. I keep praying for them to change, but as we can see from the election of our first Black President, that ain't gonna happen.

Michel T.
Michel T.8 years ago

This is awful