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FBI: Blacks most often targeted in hate crimes

June 20, 2015 at 6:05 PM EDT
An estimated 260,000 suspected hate crimes happen in the U.S. every year. More than 50 out of every 1 million black citizens was the victim of a racially motivated hate crime in 2012, the highest of any group, according to FBI data. Washington Post reporter Christopher Ingraham joins Hari Sreenivasan from Baltimore to put this week’s attack in perspective.

HARI SREENIVASAN, PBS NEWSHOUR WEEKEND ANCHOR: Wednesday’s massacre draws attention to the estimated 260,000 suspected hate crimes that happened in America every year, according to the Department of Justice’s Bureau of Statistics.

Helping to put this week’s attack into perspective is “Washington Post” reporter Christopher Ingraham, joining me from Baltimore.

So, according to the FBI, violent crime numbers have steadily been declining over the last two decades. But what about hate crimes?

CHRISTOPHER INGRAHAM, THE WASHINGTON POST: Hate crimes are basically flat, and that’s kind of an interesting — it’s an interesting slice of data. Basically, there are numbers from both the FBI and the Bureau of Justice Statistics. They show that — the Bureau of Justice Statistics shows there are about 300,000 hate crimes each year. And that’s been pretty steady going all the way back to 2004.

And one of the really interesting things is that this number has held steady, even as the number of active hate groups in the United States has decreased, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. And one thing that a lot of people think is happening is it points to a rise so-called lone wolf actors, like potentially the situation in Charleston. And that’s a concerning development for law enforcement officials.

HARI SREENIVASAN: So, are the targets still the same people, whether they’re from hate groups or lone wolves?

CHRISTOPHER INGRAHAM: Yes. So, you know, the numbers and the rates seem to be pretty steady. Among racial groups, African-Americans experience the most hate crime. They’re the ones most likely to be targeted. They’re basically — their like chances of being target forward a hate attack are roughly double any other group and it’s more than 10 times that for white people.

So, among racial groups, blacks are definitely the most targeted. You also see a fair amount of attacks based on gender towards gay men, and also a fair amount of attacks based on religion, towards Jewish people primarily.

HARI SREENIVASAN: And what about the veracity of the numbers? Is there a possibility for undercounting? You said there are multiple agencies that track this.

CHRISTOPHER INGRAHAM: Absolutely. So, the FBI’s numbers, they provide the best breakdowns of individual racial and religious groups. But in terms of the actual numbers that they track, everyone agrees that those are pretty much a very serious undercount because the FBI only tracks crimes that are specifically categorized as a hate crime by them. And so, that means that they have to have specific concrete evidence of a racial bias.

Now, the interesting thing if you look at the Bureau of Justice Statistics numbers, they show about five times more racially biased attacks than the FBI does. And the way they do that is they just go out and they interview victims of all crimes and they ask the victims, “Do you feel you were targeted based on your race or your religion?”

And so, basically, what you get is the FBI numbers show about 6,000 hate crimes per year, while the Bureau of Justice Statistics numbers show close to 300,000 hate crimes a year, which is just a huge order of magnitude difference, and that difference is because they’re interviewing people, they are asking them, “Do you feel like you were targeted because of your race or your identity or who you are?”

HARI SREENIVASAN: And then, what about all of the different jurisdictions? Are they all required to report every crime potentially a hate crime or not, to either the FBI or the other bureau?

CHRISTOPHER INGRAHAM: Yes, so that’s been a big problem with the FBI’s numbers and you see this in a lot of things. You see this with police-involved shootings. You see this in all sorts of areas. The FBI’s numbers — basically, local jurisdictions report them voluntarily, so they’re not mandated to do so by any means, and that can be a real issue. And so, some states do a much better job of this than other ones do.

So, that’s why if you’re looking to get a really good count of the overall magnitude of these incidents around the U.S., it’s good to rely on the Bureau of Justice Statistics, and they — their sample, it’s a national probability sample of criminal — of crime victims. And so, they paint a more accurate picture of the overall magnitude.

The tradeoff there is they don’t have quite as detailed breakdowns of who the victims are or of what the motivations are as the FBI does.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Christopher Ingraham of “The Washington Post” — thanks so much for joining us.

CHRISTOPHER INGRAHAM: No problem. Thanks for having me.

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