By Mark Potok on October 29, 2008
Hate crimes targeting Latinos increased again in 2007, capping a 40% rise in the four years since 2003, according to FBI statistics released earlier this week.
As anti-immigrant propaganda has increased on both the margins and in the mainstream of society — where pundits and politicians have routinely vilified undocumented Latino immigrants with a series of defamatory falsehoods — hate violence has risen against perceived “illegal aliens.” Each year since 2003, the number of FBI-reported anti-Latino hate crime incidents has risen (see table, below), even as a swelling nativist movement has become larger and more vitriolic.
The FBI statistics, which are simply compilations of state statistics as mandated by federal law, are notoriously sketchy. Because of a variety of problems in the voluntary reporting system, including the failure of many victims to report crimes to police, the FBI figures have long been suspected of being far lower than the actual level of such crimes. And that turns out to be true. The FBI has reported national hate crime totals of between about 6,000 and about 10,000 since it began publishing the numbers in 1992, depending on the year (the new report counts 7,264 incidents in 2007). But a definitive 2005 study by the Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Statistics (PDF), based on detailed and highly accurate National Crime Victimization Surveys, found that the real annual level of hate crime in America averaged some 191,000 incidents — in other words, about 20 to 30 times higher than the numbers annually reported by the FBI.
Although the numbers of FBI-reported anti-Latino hate crime attacks are small — from 426 incidents in 2003 to 595 incidents in 2007 — the trend they suggest is almost certainly a real one. California, which does a better job of reporting hate crimes than most states, has also seen a major uptick in anti-Latino violence, and the growth of hate groups has been most dramatic in Southern border states like California, Arizona and Texas, the front lines of the immigration controversy.
At the same time as anti-Latino violence has risen, the Southern Poverty Law Center has reported a major increase in hate groups — from 602 in 2000 to 888 in 2007, a 48% percent jump — and said that the growth has been almost entirely driven by the immigration debate. White supremacist groups that normally target African Americans and Jews have focused heavily for the last several years on the “threat” of Latino immigrants, exploiting the issue successfully in order to recruit more and more members, especially in the border states. That has only begun to change recently, as hate groups increasingly turn their attention to the subprime crisis (which they blame on minorities) and the likely prospect of a black president.
There are other problems in the FBI hate crime statistics, as is reflected in the new report for 2007. Mississippi, for instance, reported zero hate crimes last year, while Alaska reported one and Georgia had three. If there are more than 190,000 hate crimes nationally each year, it is obviously utterly implausible that the number of hate crimes in those states could be so low. A part of the problem has been the reluctance of some police departments and states to report hate crimes (one reason may be fear of bad publicity), along with reporting errors by various local and state officials. The 2005 Department of Justice study also pointed to another huge problem, finding that fully 56% of hate crime victimizations were never reported to police at all. That problem is exacerbated in the undocumented community, whose members are typically afraid to report crimes to police for fear of being deported.
The FBI’s latest report also found, as it has in most years, that schools and colleges were the third largest venue for hate crimes (with 11.3% of the total reported on campuses) after “in or near residences or homes” (30.5%) and “on highways, roads, alleys, or streets” (18.9%). Although many think of campuses as being bastions of open-mindedness, in fact they suffer the same pathologies as the rest of society. They also hold concentrations of young people, who are more crime-prone that other segments of the population.
The definitive 2005 government study also highlighted several other key facts about hate crimes, including that per capita rates of victimization “varied little by race or ethnicity: about 0.9 per 1,000 whites, 0.7 per 1,000 blacks, and 0.9 per 1,000 Hispanics.” Perhaps more importantly, the study concluded that hate crimes were vastly more violent than others — almost 84% of hate crimes included violence ranging from rape to assault, while only 23% of non-hate crimes did.