Obama’s legacy: tracking hate crimes

Electing an African-American as U.S. President in 2008 capped centuries of bigotry and began a legacy of inclusion. An image of Obama taking the oath of office became a picture worth a billion words. Despite all the flapping from Europe and Asia about peace and tolerance, so far nothing comparable happened there. For example, there has been no Franco-Arab president of France–not even someone mentioned or on the horizon.

A quiet message, the obverse of promoting inclusion, was delegitimizing racial and ethnic hate. From growing up with bigotry, signs are easily remembered–serving as sly handshakes through words and acts that signal shared outlooks: “one of the gang.” Electing a black President, then re-electing him to another term said, “No, that’s not OK any more. That’s not us.”

Lynching and race riots grew in the aftermath of the Civil War and continued into the 1940s. The way of inclusion became an official outlook through the Great Depression, the era of World War II and the landmark Brown v. Board decision from the Supreme Court in 1954. That did not make it the common way of life. Hate crimes against African-Americans surged during civil rights struggles of the 1950s through the 1970s.

Tracking hate crimes: The U.S. Department of Justice finally began to record hate crimes in 1992, as required by the Hate Crime Statistics Act of 1990 and the Arson Prevention Act of 1996. [Public Laws 101-275 and 104-155] About 17,000 law enforcement agencies now contribute to annual reports. Records since 1996 are available online as part of Uniform Crime Reports compiled by FBI central offices. However, the Justice Department does not publish trends and has not tried to provide consistent reporting.

Anti-African-American hate crimes

usantiblackhatecrimes2009thru2015
Source: U.S. Department of Justice, 2016

Data from the U.S. Department of Justice show that the most numerous reported hate crimes target African-Americans, Jews and Muslims. For 2015, recent hate crime data show about 1,750 incidents targeting African-Americans, about 660 targeting Jews and about 260 targeting Muslims.

Anti-Jewish hate crimes

usantijewishhatecrimes2009thru2015
Source: U.S. Department of Justice, 2016

The most recent U.S. population survey for race and ethnicity estimates 43 million African-Americans. The most recent survey for religion estimates about 6 million Jews and 3 million Muslims. Proportionately, the 2015 rates of hate crimes per million residents were about 40 targeting African-Americans, 110 targeting Jews and 90 targeting Muslims.

Anti-Muslim hate crimes

usantimuslimhatecrimes2009thru2015
Source: U.S. Department of Justice, 2016

Crime trends: Hate crime statistics reflect crime motives as reported by law enforcement agencies–not as determined by courts or as found by other third parties. They are affected by reporting bias. If, for example, law-enforcement training increased likelihoods that incidents were flagged as hate crimes, then rates of reported hate crimes would rise, but such increases would reflect training rather than changes in crime rates.

The falling rates of reported hate crimes targeting African-Americans, down about 20 percent for the five years from 2010 to 2015, signal apparent progress during core years of the Obama administration. There was similar apparent progress in lower rates of reported hate crimes targeting Jews, falling about 25 percent over that five-year span.

However, reported hate crimes targeting Muslims increased significantly, about 60 percent over those years. All of that increase occurred during the final year, 2015. Not shown in the foregoing charts, a sustained and even greater increase occurred in reported hate crimes targeting Native Americans. They tripled between 2010 and 2013, then remained nearly steady at the increased rate.

Situations of Native Americans might be so different from those of other groups for reported rates to be largely fictions. On the basis of hundreds of interviews, Barbara Perry, a professor of criminology at the Ontario Institute of Technology, estimated in 2008 that hate crimes targeting Native Americans had been drastically under-reported. A sharp rise in reported rates between 2010 and 2013 could stem from reporting improvements during the Obama administration. Ken Salazar, Interior secretary during those years, promoted policies of inclusion toward Native Americans. So far no systematic survey has addressed the issues.

Causes and consequences: Filth spread by Donald J. Trump’s campaign for President acted to relegitimize and encourage racist behavior, starting in 2015. Trump did not need to “be” a racist or an anti-Semite but just to become a fellow traveler. His race-baiting dog whistles drew poisonous support from Nazi, Klan and other white supremacist groups. He circulated some of their propaganda. There is an obvious precedent. Former President Wilson also drew support from racist groups. The first Southerner elected since Taylor in 1848, he resegregated parts of the federal workforce, notably the Post Office.

Just as Wilson’s attitude and behavior encouraged lynching and growth of the Ku Klux Klan, vile propaganda emerging around the Trump campaign probably encouraged recent hate crimes–notably against Muslims, whom Trump savaged. People with antisocial outlooks and violent bents are apt to find signs of acceptance and perhaps approval. Unless Donald J. Trump were somehow to reverse his ways and become a beacon of tolerance, we can expect a parade of moral cretins and their crimes to surge in future years.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, November 18, 2016


Errin Haines Whack, Associated Press, Trump’s staff picks alarm minorities: ‘injustice to America’, U.S. News, November 18, 2016

Hate crime statistics for 2015, U.S. Department of Justice, November 11, 2016

Adrian Walker, The politics of hatred and resentment seem headed for defeat, Boston Globe, November 7, 2016

Dana Milbank, Anti-Semitism is no longer an undertone of Trump’s campaign. It’s the melody, Washington Post, November 7, 2016

Trump closes his campaign as he opened it: preaching xenophobia and hate, Daily Kos (UK), November 7, 2016

Michael Finnegan, Trump stokes terrorism fears, citing refugee ‘disaster’ in Minnesota, Los Angeles Times, November 6, 2016

Sarah Posner and David Neiwert, How Trump took hate groups mainstream, Mother Jones, October 14, 2016

Stephanie McCrummen, Finally: someone who thinks like me, Washington Post, October 1, 2016

Daniel Marans, Meet members of Donald Trump’s white supremacist fan club, Huffington Post, August 25, 2015

Martin Pengelly, American Nazi Party leader sees ‘a real opportunity’ with a Trump Presidency, Manchester Guardian (UK), August 7, 2016

Emily Flitter, Reuters, Trump tweet that blasts Clinton as corrupt includes the Star of David, Washington Post, July 2, 2016

Tom Shoop, When Woodrow Wilson segregated the federal workforce, Government Executive (Washington, DC), November 20, 2015

William Keylor, The long-forgotten racial attitudes and policies of Woodrow Wilson, Boston University Office of Public Relations, March 4, 2013

Population statistics, Bureau of the Census, U.S. Department of Commerce, 2016

Gregory Smith, et al., America’s changing religious landscape, Pew Research Center, 2015

Barbara Perry, Silent Victims: Hate Crimes Against Native Americans, University of Arizona Press, 2008

Brown v. Board of Education, Leadership Conference (Washington, DC), 2004

Robert A. Gibson, The Negro Holocaust: Lynching and Race Riots in the United States, Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute, 1979

Craig Bolon, Election aftermath: recovery starting, work pending, Brookline Beacon, November 9, 2016

Craig Bolon, Chump disease: political virus, Brookline Beacon, October 2, 2016

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