Hate crimes in America dropped by 8 percent in 2014

In the US, crimes motivated by race, religion, gender, and sexual orientation fell slightly in 2014, a new FBI report has found.

(J.B. Forbes/St. Louis Post-Dispatch via AP, File)
Pastor David Triggs and his wife, Charronda, hold hands during an outdoor service in October following a fire at the church at the New Life Missionary Baptist Church in St. Louis. Authorities announced Oct. 30, 2015 the arrest of a 35-year-old black man suspected of setting fires at several predominantly African-American St. Louis-area churches that spurred a hate-crime investigation.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation’s latest tally of hate crimes in the United States suggests some progress towards combating such offenses as the nation struggles with tensions around race, religion, and sexual orientation.

In a report released Monday, the FBI found that hate crimes fell 8 percent in 2014 compared to the previous year – though the incidents still number in the thousands (5,462), with racially-motivated crimes still the biggest category. Critics also say the FBI numbers are vastly lower than the actual total of hate crimes in the country (since not all crimes are reported), and that crimes against Muslims and blacks continue to rise. 

In some ways, this annual report offers a snapshot of some American fears, and especially those of a minority of white Americans (who make up 52 percent of the reported perpetrators).

Still, the overall decline in hate crimes may also be indicative of the efforts among communities and business across the country to promote tolerance and understanding.

“[T]he enemy is not the individuals, the enemy is ignorance,” said Farris Barakat, whose brother, his wife, and her sister were murdered in an attack in North Carolina earlier this year, to The Christian Science Monitor in October. “So it’s not about living in a victimized state. We should just take a moment to celebrate the good and appreciate those who stand up to say, ‘This shouldn’t be how we live.’ ”

Violence against Muslims rose by 2 percent in 2014, as Islam continues to be perceived in a negative light amid the ongoing brutality of Islamic State (aka ISIS) and Al Qaeda in the Middle East. Anti-Muslim rhetoric from some Republican presidential contenders – particularly Donald Trump and retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson – has done little to ease such tensions.

Yet some see hope beneath the surface acrimony, as anti-Muslim rallies held across the country in October folded in the face of support from interfaith groups. As the Monitor’s Harry Bruinius reported at the time:

Other glimmers include the groundswell of support for Ahmed, the teenage clockmaker. ... And this week, an appeals court decided to reinstate a case brought by Muslim groups against the New York Police Department’s surveillance program instituted after 9/11. The program specifically infiltrated mosques, student groups, and Muslim businesses in New Jersey on the basis of religion. ...

"What occurs here in one guise is not new. We have been down similar roads before. Jewish-Americans during the Red Scare, African-Americans during the Civil Rights Movement, and Japanese-Americans during World War II are examples that readily spring to mind," the appellate panel said. "We are left to wonder why we cannot see with foresight what we see so clearly with hindsight – that loyalty is a matter of the heart and mind, not race, creed, or color."

The same is true for violence against other groups. FBI data shows that race-based crimes made up nearly half of all hate crimes in 2014 – no surprise amid ongoing friction between the black community and law enforcement.

Indeed, among black Millennials, recent research reveals a struggle with what they see as the paradox of modern sentiment toward the black community, the Monitor’s Henry Gass reported:

By some very prominent measures, black America is more politically powerful than ever before. The president is black, as is the current front-runner for the Republican nomination for president, Ben Carson. There are more black members of Congress than ever before, and black mayors govern major cities from Philadelphia to Denver.

And yet, in personal lives, African Americans still say they feel overly targeted for petty crimes such as traffic stops and major ones such as drug use. Young blacks feel more accepted than ever – embraced by Americans popular culture and no longer subject to the overt racism of Jim Crow – yet still separate.

But hate attacks against blacks and African-Americans dropped slightly in the past year, according to the FBI report. And the growing opposition nationwide to symbols of the Confederacy – considered by many as a mark of America’s racist past – is emblematic of that change.

The lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transsexual (LGBT) community also continues to struggle towards acceptance: nearly 19 percent of hate crimes in 2014 were driven by sexual orientation, the FBI found, down 1 percent from 2013. 

Still, the past year has seen a tide of support for LGBT groups and individuals – particularly from businesses that sense the shift in perspective among younger consumers. From Fisher-Price championing LGBT parenting to the Starbucks "Safe Place," corporations have been among the most visible in standing against LGBT hate crimes.

As the Monitor’s Mr. Bruinius reported in March: “American corporate capitalism has more and more become engaged with the same-sex marriage culture war, and has become one of the nation’s most powerful drivers of the social changes that have led to a mainstream acceptance of homosexuality.”

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