Hate crimes rose in 2016, declined in Missouri | St. Louis Public Radio

Hate crimes rose in 2016, declined in Missouri

Nov 15, 2017

The number of hate crimes reported in the United States rose for the second year in a row, according to an FBI report released on Monday.

Law-enforcement agencies reported more than 6,100 hate crimes in 2016, about a 5 percent increase from the previous year. Jews and Muslims were most likely to be targeted, and more than half of all reports were motivated by either race or ethnicity.

Missouri reported 88 hate crimes last year, down from 100 in 2015. Illinois reported 111 hate crimes in 2016, up from 90 the previous year. Some observers say many hate crimes likely go unreported by authorities and victims.

Although most of the crimes were motivated by the victim's race or ethnicity, crimes were also committed against victims because of their religion or sexual orientation.

Some say the FBI’s report does not capture the full extent of hate crimes.

One problem is that the nation’s police departments do not have a uniform definition of what constitutes a hate crime, said Karen Aroesty, regional director of the Anti-Defamation league.

That can lead to underreporting by law enforcement, she said.

“One jurisdiction might call something a hate crime,” Aroesty said. “Another might simply call it a biased incident. A third might say that that same set of facts wasn’t a hate crime at all.”

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Concern over hate crimes rose in the St. Louis region after last year's presidential election and reports that people were targeted with verbal taunts and harassment based on their perceived race or religion. When someone toppled headstones from their bases at Chesed Shel Emeth Cemetery in February, many in the Jewish community said they considered that a hate crime.

The federal Hate Crime Statistic Act does not require police departments to report on hate crimes, so the numbers the FBI receives do not necessarily provide a complete picture of the problem.

Law enforcement agencies may choose to opt-out of the data collection or report that no instances of hate crimes.

Aroesty said reports of hate crimes by the general population also are likely to be skewed.

Many minorities, including members of the LGBTQ community and immigrants, have a history of underreporting hate crimes to law enforcement because they fear retaliation, she said.

The nation’s current political and social climate can contribute to such underreporting, she said.

“Anti-immigrant and anti-refugee sentiment has kept folks away from engaging with law-enforcement altogether,” she said.

Follow Chelsea on Twitter: @ChelSeaport