In 1990, Congress passed the Hate Crimes Statistics Act (HCSA), mandating the collection of data related to transgressions motivated by an offender’s bias against a victim’s race, religion, sexual orientation, or ethnicity. Commissioned by the Attorney General, the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) program developed a system to compile and classify this information. The crimes tallied would include both personal offenses (such as murder, rape, assault, and intimidation) and property offenses (such as robbery, burglary, theft, arson, and vandalism). In 1994, incidents of bias against “persons with disabilities” were added as a newly counted category of hate crimes.
The prospect of quantifying the incidence of hate crimes was enthusiastically welcomed by America’s civil-rights establishment, which has long emphasized and condemned the supposedly widespread incidence of white-on-black attacks. As former U.S. Civil Rights Commission chair Mary Frances Berry once put it, “The primary explanation for racially motivated violence against blacks has been the need of a segment of the white population to preserve [its] belief in the inferiority of blacks, and to maintain the social and political subordination of an historically outcast group by any means, including violence.” Berry’s message closely resembles that of Al Sharpton, who has characterized white-on-black violence as “a national epidemic.” In a similar vein, Jesse Jackson has asserted that blacks are not only “despised,” but are actually “hunted for sport.”
Many academics, as well, have voiced their agreement with these views. The late African American Studies professor Vivian Gordon called black men “a hunted and endangered species.” University of California sociology professor Robert Staples laments what he calls “a sort of genocide targeting young black males.” And Ivy League professor Cornel West refers to blacks as our country’s “exemplary targets of racial hatred.”
In 2010, law-enforcement agencies nationwide reported a total of 7,699 hate-crime incidents to the FBI, of which 3,725 (or 48.4%) were motivated by racial bias. If we exclude all racially motivated offenses whose perpetrators are categorized as being of “unknown race,” or something other than “white” or “black,” and we focus only on those offenses definitely involving both blacks and whites, we find that blacks were victims of 1,417 racially motivated offenses committed by whites, while whites were victims of 303 racially motivated offenses committed by blacks. Thus whites were responsible for 82.4% of these interracial hate crimes, and blacks 20.5 percent.
While this may appear to support the popular assertion that whites are likelier than blacks to commit hate crimes, we must remember that the total population of non-Hispanic whites is about 5.2 times larger than the total population of non-Hispanic blacks. When we factor this population disparity into the equation, we find that the “average” black is actually slightly more likely than his or her white counterpart to commit what is classified as a racially motivated hate crime.
It is also the case that FBI hate-crime statistics list “Hispanics” as a category of victims, but not as a category of offenders. Instead, Hispanic offenders are lumped together with whites. In other words, the current hate-crime classification system allows for Hispanics to be counted as victims of hate crimes, but never as perpetrators of such crimes. This artificially inflates, very dramatically, the share of hate crimes committed by “whites.”
Finally, it should be noted that while very few of those crimes that cross racial lines are categorized as hate crimes, white-on-black offenses are far likelier to be called hate crimes than are black-on-white offenses. The Bureau of Justice Statistics estimates that in 2010, there were about 320,082 black-on-white crimes of violence, as compared to some 62,593 of the white-on-black variety. Yet although black-perpetrated interracial crimes outnumbered white-perpetrated interracial crimes by a ratio of about 5.1-to-1, the official hate-crime statistics showed white offenders outnumbering black offenders by a 4.7-to-1 margin. Put another way, about 1 out of every 44.1 white-on-black attacks is classified as a hate crime, while the corresponding fraction for black-on-white attacks is an astounding 1 out of 1,056.
- “Excerpts from Jesse Jackson’s Address to Washington March,” The New York Times (October 17, 1995), p. A20.
- Felicia R. Lee, “Black Men: Are They Imperiled?” The New York Times(June 26, 1990), p. B3.
- Daniel Goleman, “Black Scientists Study the ‘Pose’ of the Inner City,” The New York Times (April 21, 1992), pp. C1, C7.
- Cornel West, Race Matters (New York: Vintage Books, 1994), p. 110.