Identity-Based Violence in the United States

If you are worried about violence getting out of hand in American, you may be missing a key point. It is true that violent crimes have been steadily declining. Between 1964 and 1991, the rate of violent crime in the United States quadrupled. Then, rates entered a period of steady decline, falling by almost 50%.

But the rate of decline has leveled off this decade and rates increased in the first half of 2015. You have to wonder if this is related to the virulence of our political rhetoric. Although I would not claim that political rhetoric is directly culpable for individual acts of violence, there is evidence that virulent political rhetoric, political polarization, and aggression generally reinforce each other.

Those overall crime numbers might seem comforting, but they hide an important issue which is well-documented: hate crimes in the U.S. have not declined. Identity-based violence continues to be a serious concern. Or at least it should be. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, nearly 300,000 hate crimes occur every year in the United States.

This violence is increasingly based on ethnic, religious or gender bias. African Americans are frequent victims of hate crime. But there are also high numbers of hate crimes based on religion, often targeting the Jewish community. Hate crimes are also committed against people with disabilities, at nearly three times the rate of those without disabilities.

And the violence in Orlando reminds us of the reality of anti-LGBTQ hate crime. According to the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs, statistical trends show that "anti-LGBTQ and HIV-affected hate violence disproportionately impacts transgender women, LGBTQ and HIV-affected communities of color, LGBTQ and HIV-affected youth and young adults, transgender people, transgender people of color, and gay men."

If identity-based bias is an increasingly virulent force that is driving violence, then the answer is not more hatred and bias. This conclusion seems simple enough. But can our policy makers learn to shelve the ferocious rhetoric and actually work to solve our hate-crime problem?