The Corner

Politics & Policy

Hate Crimes: A Reality Check

President Donald Trump delivers remarks in Lexington, Ky., November 4, 2019. (Yuri Gripas/Reuters)

The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, of which I’m a member, released a report yesterday entitled “In the Name of Hate: Examining the Federal Government’s Role in Response to Hate Crimes.” The report appears to lend credence to the Left’s narrative that the U.S. is enduring a wave of white supremacist hate crimes spurred by the election of Donald Trump. The practical effect of the report is to malign supporters of the president as violent extremists and portray the nation as a whole as intrinsically racist. The proposed solution, unsurprisingly, is greater federal involvement in local law enforcement, increased classification of crimes as “hate crimes” subject to federal prosecution, and curtailment of First Amendment freedoms.

The report is grievously flawed.

As I noted earlier this year when Jussie Smollett captivated the nation with his valiant tale of fighting two Nigerian white supremacists without losing hold of his Subway sandwich, the actual statistics about hate crimes in this country confound the Left’s narrative. Last year we were told that an increase of 1,000 reported hate crimes in 2017 versus 2016 was evidence of a “wave of hate” sweeping the country. But as journalist Robby Soave pointed out at the Commission’s hearing, the increase is likely due to the fact that 1,000 more law enforcement agencies began reporting hate crimes to the FBI in 2017. If each new agency reported just one hate crime, that alone would account for the increase. Furthermore, even the 1,000 year-over-year increase brought the number of hate crimes to 7,175 — fewer than in 2006, when there were 7,624 hate crimes. In fact, earlier this week the FBI released the 2018 hate crimes statistics, revealing that there were 7,120 hate crimes — 55 fewer than in 2017, and (despite far more law enforcement agencies now reporting) approximately 500 fewer than in 2006.

Perhaps more importantly, the report fails to answer one simple question: Will designating a crime a “hate crime” prevent or reduce the incidence of such crimes? I asked that question of the witnesses at the Commission’s briefing on the topic, and was greeted with silence.

This, however, wasn’t quite as revealing as when I asked the witnesses what they made of the fact that blacks are far more likely to commit hate crimes than are whites. According to FBI statistics, in 2018, blacks, who are 13.4 percent of the overall population, accounted for 18.8 percent of hate-crime perpetrators. Whites, who are 76.5 percent of the population, accounted for 41.3 percent of hate-crime perpetrators. When I asked the witnesses whether we should, therefore, direct greater hate-crime-prevention efforts toward the black community, many of them stared at me with expressions ranging from confusion to hostility, reemphasizing that the real problem is that white males feel threatened, and that’s the real reason for the (phantom) increase in hate crimes.

Without diminishing hate (or any other) crimes, perspective is in order. Hate crimes are a vanishingly small portion of total crime. For example, a total of 1,231,566 murders, rapes, aggravated assaults, and robberies were committed in 2015. 821, or .00067 percent, were classified as hate crimes. That’s for an entire year. An average of 550 Americans are struck by lightning per year, most of which strikes occur during a 6–7 month period. Americans are about as likely to be a victim of a violent hate crime as being struck by the proverbial bolt of lightning.

To sum up: There’s no wave of hate crimes in “Trump’s America,” whites are disproportionately less likely to commit hate crimes, and there’s no evidence that adopting every single recommendation in the Commission report would do anything to prevent even one hate crime.

Other than that, it’s a great report.

Peter Kirsanow — Peter N. Kirsanow is an attorney and a member of the United States Commission on Civil Rights.

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