Lamentably enough, hate crimes in the United States have climbed to new heights, propelled by verbal abuse and physical attacks against African and Asian Americans. According to a report released by the FBI a few days ago, they have risen to the highest level in 12 years.
The federal agency reported 7,759 such crimes in 2020, during which the coronavirus pandemic emerged with a vengeance, the economy was upended due to lockdowns, and a bitter and divisive presidential election took place.
The number of racially-motivated crimes increased by six percent from 2019 and almost 42 percent since 2014. Attacks targeting African Americans and Asian Americans respectively rose from 1,930 to 2,755 and from 158 to 274.
Attacks aimed at Jews fell from 953 in 2019 to 676 in 2020, the FBI says, but the Anti-Defamation League tallied 2,024 incidents of harassment, assault and vandalism, the third-highest number on record.
And herein lies a problem.
Civil rights activists and Democrats in Congress claim that hate crimes have been undercounted by local police forces, which have been trained improperly to identify them and which lack sufficient resources, or interest, to investigate them on a professional basis.
“While the numbers in the (FBI) report are shocking, we know that they are not even close to the complete picture,” says Judy Chu, the chairperson of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus.
Echoing her grim assessment, John Yang, the executive director of Asian Americans Advancing Justice, contends that FBI statistics are “woefully underreported.”
Jonathan Greenblatt, the chief executive officer of the Anti-Defamation League, describes the FBI’s numbers as “disturbing,” but thinks they have been undercounted due to declining levels of reporting from local law enforcement agencies.
This deficiency may well be fixed by the Covid-19 Hate Crimes Act, which was passed in Congress four months ago. It requires the Department of Justice to improve the reporting of hate crimes.
It remains to be seen whether this legislation will be helpful, but in the meantime, we should all be concerned by the dreadful spike in hate crimes committed against minorities.
As Attorney General Merrick Garland put it, “These hate crimes and other bias-related incidents instill fear across entire communities and undermine the principles upon which our democracy stands.”
Garland has the full support of his boss, President Joe Biden. In a Rosh Hashanah webinar with 1,000 rabbis on September 2, he came out swinging. “We’re not going to stand for our fellow Americans being intimidated and attacked for who they are (and) what they believe,” he told them.
He added that the Department of Justice is hiring staff to coordinate the prosecution of hate crimes, and that his administration is monitoring extremist groups in a “comprehensive effort to take on the threat of domestic terrorism.”
Biden reminded them that he entered the presidential race following his predecessor’s failure to unequivocally condemn right-wing extremists at a “Unite the right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, in the summer of 2017 during which white nationalists, neo-Nazis and white supremacists chanted, “Jews will not replace us.”
Now that he is president, Biden should do all in his power to clamp down hard on racists who attack members of minority groups and thereby violate the values and norms of American society.