Posted on October 6, 2021

Second Thoughts About That FBI Report of a 40% Spike in Anti-Black Hate Crime

John Hirschauer, RealClearInvestigations September 30, 2021

The FBI’s latest annual report on hate crimes seemed to deliver more grim news about race relations in America, announcing a nearly 40% rise in anti-black hate crimes in 2020. Major news outlets trumpeted the headline-grabbing statistic, noting that it coincided with a rise in “white nationalism” and came amid a surge in anti-black “hostility” caused by summer 2020 protests. Attorney General Merrick Garland quickly promised “a comprehensive response” by the Department of Justice.

But a closer look at the data reveals a more complicated picture. Some of the biggest increases in anti-black hate crimes occurred in Democratic Party strongholds yet, perhaps surprisingly, almost no increases were reported in major cities riven by the racially tinged protests and riots after George Floyd’s murder. It’s no surprise, then, that experts caution against using these numbers to claim an epidemic of anti-black crime – both because of the FBI data’s limitations, as well as the small absolute and relative size of the reported increase.

The recent FBI dataset tallies reported hate crimes, not the number proven in court. It’s unknown whether the “true” number of hate crimes committed in 2020 is higher or lower than the FBI’s reported total. On one hand, not all crimes are reported to police, which could lead to undercounting. On the other, it’s likely that some portion of reported hate crimes would not withstand legal scrutiny, meaning the FBI’s figures might be inflated. The high evidentiary threshold required to prove a hate crime in court is illustrated by the fact that Derek Chauvin – the white cop cast as a racist convicted of murdering George Floyd last year – was not charged with a hate crime.

Whether the FBI’s data over or understates the true number of hate crimes, the total number of reported anti-black hate crimes is relatively small. In 2020, the FBI recorded a total of 7,759 hate incidents — which the FBI defines as “one or more offenses committed by the same offender, or group of offenders acting in concert, at the same time and place” —  in a country of 330 million people. Assailants with anti-black biases allegedly initiated 2,755 such incidents, targeting some 3,769 victims. This was the highest number of anti-black incidents recorded by the FBI since 2008, but at that time there were 13,690 law enforcement agencies submitting hate crime data, versus the 15,136 agencies reporting such data last year, reflecting the imprecise nature of hate crime statistics.

What was the nature of these reported crimes? Most of the anti-black offenses recorded by the FBI in 2020 were acts of intimidation and vandalism; roughly 1,200 (approximately 30%) involved violence. One bias-motivated crime is too many, of course, but the number of reported black hate-crime victims pales in comparison to the reported black victims of other crimes.

For example, there were over 189,000 reported black victims of aggravated assault in 2020 — more than 50 times the number of victims in all anti-black incidents combined. Black homicide victims dwarfed the total number of victims of all anti-black incidents in 2020. According to the FBI’s Expanded Homicide Data, there were more than 9,900 black homicide victims recorded by the FBI in 2020. Of the more than 3,700 black victims in single offender/single victim homicide cases, over 85 percent of the offenders were black. Among all anti-black offenses reported nationally in 2020, the FBI recorded a total of five murders and nonnegligent manslaughters — less than 1/10th of 1% of the total homicides committed against African Americans.


Charles Lehman, a fellow at Manhattan Institute and an expert on policing and public safety, told RealClearInvestigations that one reason the number of reported anti-black hate crimes varies significantly across states is that state and local police departments differ in how they classify criminal incidents. {snip}

City-level data complicates the story further. Several solidly blue cities that figured prominently in the summer’s protests — Minneapolis, Portland, New York, Kenosha, Seattle, Washington, D.C., Atlanta, and Chicago — did not record meaningful increases in anti-black hate crimes between 2019 and 2020. Minneapolis recorded nine anti-black hate incidents in 2020 after failing to report in 2019. Portland and New York City each had two additional reported anti-black hate incidents between 2019 and 2020; Seattle’s total fell from 84 in 2019 to 52 in 2020. Chicago had five total reported incidents in 2020, down from seven in 2019. Kenosha and Atlanta recorded zero incidents in both 2019 and 2020.