The FBI reported last week that 15,136 law enforcement agencies submitted incident reports involving 7,759 criminal incidents motivated by bias toward race, ethnicity, ancestry, religion, sexual orientation, disability, gender, and gender identity in 2020.
That’s the highest number of reported hate crime incidents since 2008, when 7,783 incidents were reported, and it reflects an increase of about 450 incidents from 2019—even though fewer law enforcement agencies reported hate crime incidents to the FBI in 2020 than in previous years.
Hate crime incidents targeting people because of their race make up the largest category by far. Out of more than 10,800 people who reported that they were the victim of a hate crime last year, 61.9% were targeted because of their race, ethnicity, or ancestry, the FBI reports.
Bias against African Americans overwhelmingly comprised the largest category of race-based hate crime incidents, with a total of 56% of race-based hate crimes being motivated by anti-Black bias.
Hate crime incidents targeting people because of their race increased more than any other category between 2019 and 2020, rising from 3,954 to 4,939 incidents. Attacks targeting Black people saw the largest rise, from 1,972 in 2019 to 2,755 in 2020.
The number of attacks against Asian Americans increased from 161 to 274, the FBI data shows.
“These statistics show a rise in hate crimes committed against Black and African-Americans, already the group most often victimized,” Attorney General Merrick Garland said in a statement. “Notably, they show a rise in hate crimes committed against members of the Asian-American Pacific Islander community. This also confirms what we have seen and heard through our work and from our partners.”
Hate crimes “instill fear across entire communities,” Garland acknowledged, promising to rededicate the Justice Department to combatting hate crimes and bias-related incidents.
The U.S. has a long history of using racial violence to terrorize entire Black communities. Racial terror lynching of African Americans was a widely supported phenomenon used to enforce racial subordination and segregation well into the 20th century.
The majority of hate crimes targeting Black people in 2020 involved assault (30%) or intimidation (43%), and 73% of offenders were white, according to the FBI data.
Federal law requires the FBI to publish annual data on hate crimes. While it is the most comprehensive national data set, the FBI statistics are likely a substantial undercount, as CNN explained, in part because law enforcement agencies are not required to submit data to the FBI. Out of 18,000 law enforcement agencies, more than 3,000 failed to submit crime statistics to the FBI for 2020. The FBI data also does not include incidents that prosecutors, rather than police, decide to charge as hate crimes.
Data from Stop AAPI Hate shows that thousands of hate incidents are likely missing from the FBI data. The group began tracking incidents involving anti-Asian bias last year as verbal and physical assaults on Asian Americans escalated amid high-profile statements wrongly blaming them for the Covid-19 pandemic. It reported last month that it received over 9,000 firsthand complaints between March 19, 2020, and June 30, 2021, including at least 4,533 anti-Asian hate incidents in the first half of 2021 alone.