The Numbers of Hate

Hate crimes by white perpetrators have dropped steadily in recent years, down 15% since 2010, even as total hate crimes spike.

Traditionally, Black History Month has been a time to celebrate civil rights leaders who helped unite a divided country. With the popularization of critical-theory social justice, the celebration of black culture and accomplishment in recent years has turned more to a focus on recognizing collective grievances. More than 50 years after civil rights movement, what would the leaders of the era think of social justice efforts today? Would they approve of our discourse our and embrace of identity politics? Do we truly operate on hope not hate?

Are we endeavoring to set aside tribalism?

Not everyone. The hard-left social justice advocates being minted en masse in undergraduate programs are gleefully welcoming rage against what they call ‘ingrained oppressive structures’ in US society and the privileged people who benefit from them. We can debate whether such theories are compatible with fact-based reality another day. Other than ever more pedantic opinion pieces, are there any real-world consequences to inflaming this kind of us vs. them mentality?

The increasingly common attitude online is that identity groups are under siege from an oppressive society, engaged in life-and-death struggles. As one Twitter user posts, “If giving them a #WhiteHistoryMonth will make them stop hating & killing us, I’ll give them eleven.”

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As we read that hate crimes are increasing across the nation, we are urged to address the prejudiced nature of society. I agreed. So I looked to the numbers to see just what was going on. Hate crimes are indeed up.

Interestingly, white offenders are making up an ever smaller share of hate crime offenders.

Unexpected hate crime trends

The overall number of hate crimes committed by white perpetrators has dropped steadily in recent years, down 15% since 2010, according the data submitted through the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report (UCR) system. In 2016, 46.3% of hate crimes were attributed to white offenders, a decrease in both absolute and relative terms.

How can this be if hate crimes are up overall?

White people still commit more hate crimes than other groups, right? In raw numbers, yes. But the overall number of hate crimes attributed to black offenders has jumped by almost half since 2010, bringing black suspects up to accounting for 26.1% of all hate crime perpetrators.

The per capita numbers are more interesting. What do we mean by per capita? For example, while police overall shoot far more white suspects than black suspects, the fact the black population is only 13% of the US total but account for 24% of police shootings is argued to show a higher rate of  police killing black people.

So when it comes to hate crimes, to measure the per capita rate of offense, we need to account for demographic representation.

The US has a 63% white population and a 13% black population. Those same populations respectively committed 46.3% and 26.1% of all hate crimes in 2016. The unexpected result is that despite the national attention on white supremacists and the Alt-Right, the demographic committing most hate crimes per capita in the US are black Americans.

Lived experience

I ran this past some fellow liberals I knew would be uncomfortable with this finding. It seemed impossibly at odds with public perception. I wanted them to help shoot holes in it.

The data relies on police reports. Not all police departments submit complete data through the UCR. Police may have too strict a definition of what constitutes a hate crime. People may be afraid to go to police when they are victimized. How can we trust the police? After all, the police are the oppressors.

“We need to listen to people’s lived experiences.”

The way criminologists check the FBI’s numbers is to do just that, listen to people’s experiences. The US Census Bureau administers the National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS) each year, collecting responses from a representative sampling of hundreds of thousands of people about crimes committed against them. It also asks whether they reported the crime to the police. In a report from the collected data from 2011-2015 the NCVS shows that, yes, many crimes perceived as racially biased go unreported.

However, adding in the ‘unreported’ hate crimes tracked by the NCVS in fact shows that whites account for an even yet smaller percentage of total hate crime offenders.

According to the victim survey, those reporting having been the victim of a hate crime identified their attacker as white in 37.7% of the cases, and identified the offender as black in 34.3% of the cases. Based on the population demographics of the US, this would mean that 1 in 2600 white people committed some form of hate crime, while 1 in 590 black people committed a hate crime, a more than 4:1 disparity in rate of offense.

Who is under threat

Not all hate crimes are on the basis of race. They can also be on the basis of sex, religion, gender identity, or sexual orientation. A large percentage of the the hate crimes might be committed against members of one’s own race, right? Unfortunately, as part of the increase, there has been a large uptick in black-on-white racially motivated crime in the last two years’ data.

The UCR data for each year, in Table 5, breaks down the anti-black hate crimes committed by white offenders, and the anti-white hate crimes committed by black offenders. In 2010 and 2011, black and white Americans victimized each other on the basis of race at approximately the same rate. But by 2016, the black-on-white hate crime rate had grown to an almost 2:1 ratio to the white-on-black rate.

Calculated from FBI UCR data and the US demographic estimates.

If the above graph shows a climbing rate of black offenders committing anti-white offenses, rising to a nearly double the rate of white-on-black offenses, and a declining number of white people committing hate crimes overall, how can the common perception be that hate crime problems are driven by white racism?

The answer is straightforward. Hate crimes by their very nature are not randomly distributed, they are targeted. The smaller a targeted group is in relation to the offending group, the more they will experience victimization disproportionate to the rate at which the larger group is actually committing offenses. A small percentage of a large group can victimize a larger percentage of a small group. Likewise, a high rate of offense perpetrated by a smaller group will have a muted impact in the perceived rate of victimization for the larger group.

So, even if on the whole black-on-white and white-on-black offenses were like the NCVS numbers, nearly identical in raw totals, black Americans per capita would still experience victimization 4.8 times as commonly simply due to being a 4.8 times smaller demographic.

Where we go from here

The data for 2017 is not out, so we cannot yet judge movement in the trends. Although the year was marked by much reporting on confrontations with the growing Alt-Right, as seen above, we cannot always rely on popular perception to make an estimate.

Numbers in proper context often reveal issues to be far more complex than common perception. The more one-sided an issue seems, the more likely it is we are missing a piece of a more complicated puzzle. From experience and professional exposure, I was aware that criminal justice statistics often show a muddled reality. What is perceived as a deeply racially biased rate of police shootings, for example, when analyzed after factoring in encounter rates with police, in fact yielded no racial disparity. (Report by professor Roland Fryer of Harvard.)

Still, I was unprepared for what the numbers would show on trends of racially motivated hate crimes.

What should we even think about this result? Is the recent increase in black-on-white hate crime driven by sensationalist reporting that intentionally inflames people? Is it hard-left social justice narratives that cast white patriarchal society as a irredeemably evil? Is it Trump? Since smaller groups inherently experience hate crimes as more pervasive, maybe black Americans are simply responding, trying to give as good as they get.

The truth is that it the reason is irrelevant. Divisive practices will always disproportionately hurt the minority, and must stop. The hard-left especially needs to recognize that driving an us vs. them mentality, aside from making no progress improving society, is a clearly self-harming strategy when applied to minority groups. White-committed hate crimes have been declining steadily, but divisive language or stoking grievances to use for political capital is still a dangerous game. It is in everybody’s interest to find a way to resolve social problems without recourse to tribalism and anger. As long as divisions exist, even a slight uptick in turmoil will inflict out-sized harm on the disadvantaged group. The hard-left progressives, then, should switch to a strategy that actually seeks to resolve grievances instead of relying upon them.


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