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Analysts say hate crimes are increasing but that's not reflected in FBI data


People tracking hate crimes say they're increasing in this country. The FBI's most recent statistics could give the idea that they're not. So which impression is right? Here's NPR's Sandhya Dirks.

SANDHYA DIRKS, BYLINE: Shock and disbelief. That's what Cynthia Miller-Idriss felt when she looked at the FBI's 2021 hate crime numbers. Miller-Idriss knows something about the subject. She's a professor studying violent extremism at American University.

CYNTHIA MILLER-IDRISS: The first thing I noticed is, like, the numbers went down. That's not consistent with everything that we're hearing and seeing.

DIRKS: Data coming out of cities and from advocacy groups have all been showing a continued rise in hate crimes - from antisemitic to anti-Black hate, and anti-LGBTQ to anti-Asian hate - but not in the FBI numbers.

MILLER-IDRISS: And then I see this - almost like a little side note - oh, but it's only 63% of jurisdictions reporting.

DIRKS: Most of Florida and California didn't report. There is no data from America's three largest cities, Los Angeles, New York and Chicago.

MILLER-IDRISS: Every city I typed in, no data there.

DIRKS: It's not the FBI's fault that these cities failed to share hate crime data. But, Miller-Idriss says, the report shouldn't have been published at all.

MILLER-IDRISS: I think it's unconscionable to release it and to call it national data because it's insulting to victims who don't see their own experiences reflected.

DIRKS: The FBI warned ahead of time that the 2021 hate crime data was going to be flawed. The reason has to do with data collection standards. The bureau changed to a new system. The change didn't just happen overnight. Local law enforcement agencies have had five years of FBI training and over $100 million to prepare. The Southern Poverty Law Center's Michael Lieberman says, the new standards should be a good thing, a more robust way to measure crime.

MICHAEL LIEBERMAN: And still, 7,000 agencies this year did not report any data to the FBI.

DIRKS: Lieberman says this year compounds a longstanding problem, the underreporting and undercounting of hate crimes. Sometimes it happens because victims don't come forward. Often, communities most likely to be the targets of hate are also the folks who have their reasons not to trust police. And Lieberman says police don't always correctly label or investigate hate crimes.

LIEBERMAN: If you're a city like Miami and you reported zero numerous times in the last decade, you're not giving your community any faith that you are ready and willing and able to respond to hate violence.

DIRKS: Right now, reporting hate crime numbers to the FBI is voluntary. The Southern Poverty Law Center, alongside numerous civil rights groups, are calling for hate crime reporting to be mandatory, credible and tied to federal funding, because it's about more than just the data.

BRIAN LEVIN: The big story here is that we are not reporting the plight of victims and their communities.

DIRKS: That's Brian Levin. He runs the Center for Hate and Extremism at Cal State San Bernardino, which collects hate crime data from large police departments. He says, these days, there are more entryways into hate than ever before, and not just online.

LEVIN: Because we don't have the hierarchical yet more limited hate groups that we used to see, like the Klan. Now we have a pick-and-choose buffet.

MANJUSHA KULKARNI: Even in the last few weeks and months, we've seen a normalizing of hate.

DIRKS: That's Manjusha Kulkarni with Stop AAPI Hate.

KULKARNI: Kanye West has freely made antisemitic remarks. Former President Trump continues to use anti-Asian rhetoric.

DIRKS: Kulkarni says the answer isn't really about police, it's education, teaching kids about other cultures, about history and racism and bigotry - exactly what's under attack in many Republican-led states right now.

KULKARNI: It's precisely because awareness has been raised, and because news outlets are focusing on anti-Asian hate, antisemitic remarks, anti-Black actions, that these forces are there to silence it.

DIRKS: Kulkarni says accurately reporting hate crimes today is just as important as telling the truth about the history of hate.

Sandhya Dirks, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Sandhya Dirks
Sandhya Dirks is the race and equity reporter at KQED and the lead producer of On Our Watch, a new podcast from NPR and KQED about the shadow world of police discipline. She approaches race and equity not as a beat, but as a fundamental lens for all investigative and explanatory reporting.