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Posts for November, 2010

Mixed news on hate crimes

Timothy Kincaid

November 22nd, 2010

Hate crimes statistics is a difficult subject to correctly evaluate. Reporting by local agencies has, until recently, been voluntary and often subject to arbitrary interpretation, so year to year or location to location comparisons must be considered with the understanding that any specific anomaly in long term trending may not accurately reflect a real or significant shift in either social attitudes or behavior.

I think that it is evident and obvious that hate crimes are under-reported. Behaviors that mirror biases of individual officers are more likely to be treated as “no big deal”, and, as we have seen, even people who see themselves as supportive can dismiss hostility as “a natural reaction.” And, of course, most hate crimes are only known when the victim is willing to come forward and report a crime or file a complaint.

Reporting of hate crimes based on sexual orientation are probably complicated by a greater lack of recognition or by a greater hesitancy to come forward than other animus related crimes. However, with increased social acceptance for gay people, both institutional dismissiveness and fear of recognition have decreased which probably has resulted in a higher frequency of incidents being reported or tracked.

Okay, that’s enough caveats. Now the positive news.

The FBI has released the statistics on hate crimes reported during 2009, and fewer incidents were reported than previous years in nearly every category. (FBI)

While the number of law enforcement agencies submitting data to us increased—topping off at 14,222—the number of hate crime incidents reported for 2009 (6,604) was down from 2008. The number of reported victims (8,336) has also gone down. (“Victims,” in this case, can be individuals, businesses, institutions, and society as a whole.)

Sexual Orientation based crimes were significantly fewer than in prior years. Comparison to 2008 may not reflect a trend, as Proposition 8’s fear-based anti-gay campaign is believed to have generated an increased hostility towards gay people, but with 1,436 incidents, this is lower than both 2008 and 2007.

Hate crimes based on race, religion, and ethnicity were also lower than in the past two years. This is wonderful news.

However, there is also some disturbing news to be found among the data.

When considering just violent crimes (Murder and non-negligent manslaughter, forcible rape, aggravated assault, and simple assault), sexual orientation based crimes are up, both in incidents and in percentage of hate crimes. As in prior years, reported anti-gay hate crimes tended to include physical violence significantly more often than those of other reported demographics. This may reflect either a greater degree of animus, or it may demonstrate that reporting agencies are less likely to take non-violent hate crimes based on sexual orientation as serious or worth reporting.

Violent hate crimes based on sexual orientation went from 695 in 2008 to 725 in 2009. This reflects a slight increase in the percentage of violent hate crimes that are sexual orientation related as well as a slight increase in the percentage of sexual orientation hate crimes that were violent.

Additionally, the percentage of populations that are impacted should be considered when looking at hate crime statistics. Hate crimes, especially violent hate crimes, target individual members of the gay community to a greater extent than some other minority communities. (Jews are also disproportionately impacted, with damage and vandalism being the dominant hate crime).

For example, African Americans make up about 12.4% of the population and there were 819 reported cases of anti-black assaults. The GLB community, on the other hand, comprise maybe around 5.5% of the total population and suffered 712 reported cases of assault.

So while it is good news that the total hate crime incidences reported in 2009 – including those based on anti-gay animus – were down, it remains troubling that so many anti-gay hate crimes continue to be violent.