The number of hate crimes rose across the United States in 2016, marking the first time in over a decade that the country has experienced consecutive annual increases in crimes targeting people based on their race, religion, sexuality, disability or national origin.
Data collected by the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino, and provided exclusively to HuffPost, shows hate crimes rose about 5 percent from 2015 to 2016.
The study, authored by Professor Brian Levin, is seen as a reliable predictor of official FBI hate crime statistics, released each year in November. Levin’s 2016 findings amount to the most comprehensive hate crime data to date for the divisive election year, and back up alarming anecdotal evidence of emboldened bigotry in America.
According to Levin, the study found “nearly identical” increases in hate crimes across two separate data sets.
The first data set consists of hate crime numbers reported by law enforcement agencies in 31 large cities and counties, including the 10 largest cities in the U.S. The study found 2,101 hate crimes in those cities and counties, a nearly 5 percent rise from the 2,003 hate crimes in the same places the year before.
Of the nation’s five largest cities, all but Houston experienced double-digit percentage increases, Levin said.
Hate crimes in Chicago rose 20 percent in 2016, 24 percent in New York City, 15 percent in Los Angeles, and 50 percent in Philadelphia. The city with the largest increase in hate crimes was Washington, D.C., which saw a 62 percent rise.
Fifteen of 31 cities surveyed, Levin said, had totals that were multi-year highs. Of the 13 cities and counties experiencing declines, most were areas that historically report low hate crime numbers.
Also notable in the city data: of the seven cities that broke down anti-Muslim hate crimes in 2016, six saw increases in that category. Nationally in 2015, hate crimes targeting Muslims rose 67 percent.
The second data set in Levin’s study consists of hate crime numbers provided by 13 states, including 5 of the nation’s 10 most populous. There were 3,887 hate crimes in those 13 states in 2016, according to Levin, representing a nearly 5 percent increase from the 3,705 such crimes the year before.
Although some states showed substantial increases in hate crimes, others experienced decreases. Tennessee, notably, saw a 30 percent drop in hate crimes.
“If these moderate overall increases of 5 percent hold nationally for 2016, this will be the first time since 2004 that the nation has experienced consecutive annual increases in hate crime,” Levin said. Hate crimes rose nearly 7 percent from 2014 to 2015.
Levin’s study projects — with a “slightly greater than moderate degree of confidence,” he said — there being anywhere from 6,069 to 6,245 reported hate crimes in the FBI’s 2016 Unified Crime Report, marking the highest number of hate crimes since 2012, another presidential election year.
Since the FBI started collecting hate crime statistics in the early 1990s, the agency has registered increases during every presidential election year, a rise Levin thought could likely be tied to heightened political divisions.
But 2016 was notable for the “significant increases” in hate crimes in the period around Election Day itself, he said.
“What is so unusual about 2016 ― with the exception of the Midwest ― and particularly among the largest jurisdictions with the best data, was a clear and dramatic spike for the election period that was unlike anything I can recall in my professional career,” Levin said.
Los Angeles saw a 29 percent increase in hate crimes in the last quarter of 2016. New York City saw a five-fold increase in hate crimes over a two-week period around the election. The state of California saw more hate crimes in November than any other month. Nearly 15 percent of Seattle’s hate crimes last year took place in November, and the 13 hate crimes that month were more than double the previous year’s tally. Philadelphia counted seven hate crimes in November, compared to only one over the previous four Novembers combined. Boston in November had the highest number of hate crimes for any month in either 2015 and 2016.
This election time increase backs up previous, and more anecdotal, evidence collected by the Southern Poverty Law Center, which documented a wave of horrifying hate incidents in the months following the election.
There are likely multiple explanations for 2016’s rise in hate crimes, Levin said, including “particularly sharp and widespread bigotry against particular communities like transgendered and Muslims” and the “emboldenment and mainstreaming of white nationalism.”
President Donald Trump’s election campaign was rife with rhetoric targeting or scapegoating minorities, and he often was slow to condemn ― and in some cases appeared to signal his support for ― white supremacists.
A white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, last month — the biggest such gathering in well over a decade, according to the Anti-Defamation League — saw many white supremacists holding pro-Trump signs, chanting pro-Trump slogans or wearing his signature “Make America Great Again” hat.
After a neo-Nazi at the rally drove his car into a crowd of counter-protesters, killing one and injuring 19 others, Trump refused to specifically condemn the white supremacists. Trump later said there were “fine people” on “both sides” of the Charlottesville rally — a statement he repeated this week.
Levin and other experts on hate and extremism have expressed concern that Trump’s rhetoric could correlate to a continued rise in hate crimes. Levin found a precipitous rise in anti-Muslim hate crime following Trump’s initial Muslim ban proposal in December 2015.
Levin has also started to collect hate crime data for 2017 — and it’s not looking good.
An analysis of official police hate crime data from 13 large cities, Levin said, shows 827 hate crimes so far this year, a nearly 20 percent rise in those cities compared to the same period in 2016.
America’s six largest cities have recorded 526 hate crimes so far this year, amounting to a 22 percent rise, Levin said.
Anti-Semitic, anti-Muslim and anti-black attacks have fueled a 28 percent rise in hate crimes in New York City. Los Angeles saw a 50 percent rise in violent hate crimes, while Washington, D.C., and Seattle’s hate crimes are both up 22 percent so far this year. And Phoenix, which experienced a decline in hate crimes in 2016, has so far seen a 46 percent increase in 2017.
Levin’s numbers for both 2016 and 2017, by his own admission, paint only a partial portrait of hate crimes in America. His data, after all, is reliant on crimes tallied by law enforcement agencies. But hate crimes often go unreported to authorities, or might go uncounted by police departments that lack training on how to identify hate crimes.
This is also true of the FBI’s annual hate crime count, widely considered by many to be insufficient. Over 3,000 federal, state and local law enforcement agencies don’t turn over their hate crime data to the FBI each year, and many others either under-report or incorrectly report having had zero hate crimes.
A national survey by the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics found that between 2003 and 2015, there were likely a staggering 250,000 hate crimes each year in the country, the majority of which go unreported to police.
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