The number of hate crimes in major U.S. cities rose for the third consecutive year last year, driven by attacks on Jews, Muslims, blacks and LGBT people, preliminary police data exclusively provided to VOA show.
At least 1,056 hate crimes were committed in the nation’s nine largest cities in 2017, an increase of 18 percent from 2016 levels, according to police data compiled by the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University at San Bernardino.
Several major metropolitan areas, such as Washington, Philadelphia, Seattle and Phoenix, reported double-digit increases in hate-based crimes, extending a trend that started in 2015 and accelerated during the contentious presidential election campaign in 2016.
Among the nation’s five largest cities, the overall increase in hate crimes was smaller; however, the number of reported incidents rose to 719 from 664, an uptick of 8 percent.
The slower rate of increase in those five cities was attributable to two notable declines.
New York City, the nation’s largest city, reported 339 hate crimes, a notch lower than 2016 levels, while Chicago, the third largest U.S. city, recorded 50 hate crimes through the first three-quarters of the year, a decline of 7 percent from the same period in 2016.
But the trajectory of hate crimes remains pointed upward, with 2017 likely to show another moderate rise after similar increases the past two years.
“Whether you have increases or declines, a lot of these cities are at or near multiyear highs,” said Brian Levin, director of the center for the study of hate and extremism.
Hate crime data are notoriously unreliable. The FBI publishes annual hate crime stats collected from thousands of police departments, but reporting is voluntary and most agencies don’t report any incidents.
The FBI’s report also lags by about a year. Its most recent report, released in November, showed there were 6,121 hate crimes in 2016, up 4.6 percent from 5,850 in 2015.
The FBI defines a hate crime as a criminal offense motivated by the victim’s race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, ethnicity or gender identity.
Historically, race has been by far the biggest motivator of hate crime in the United States, with blacks accounting for more than half the victims of race-based offenses.
Religion and sexual orientation are the next two drivers, although in recent years religion-based hate crimes have grown, with crimes targeting Muslims nearly doubling between 2014 and 2016.
In 2017, Jews and the LGBT community accounted for more than half of hate crime victims in the cities surveyed by Levin’s center. Blacks, nationally the most frequent target of hate crime, ranked No. 3, while Muslims, who account for 1 percent of the U.S. population, were at No. 4.
The year was one of the deadliest for victims of hate crimes in more than a decade. At least 12 people were killed in nine separate suspected hate crimes, according to an unofficial tally by the San Bernardino center, although Levin stressed the actual number could turn out to be much higher.
The FBI reported five hate crime killings in 2016 and 19 in 2015, when white supremacist Dylann Roof murdered nine black worshippers at a church in Charleston, South Carolina.
The victims of the 2017 murders included four blacks, three whites, three Middle Easterners/Muslims, one gay man, and one transgender person.
Levin said there was “an alarming increase” in fatal attacks on transgender people. The rights group Human Rights Watch noted a record 28 transgender murders in 2017, but only one has been labeled a hate crime.
Gay-friendly cities such as San Francisco, Seattle and Washington have become magnets for violent homophobes.
In Washington, nearly one-third of all hate crimes in 2017 were directed at gays, while in Seattle more than a quarter of hate crime victims were gay. San Francisco data were not available.
The Anti-Defamation League, a Jewish advocacy organization, recorded 1,299 anti-Semitic incidents during the first three-quarters of last year, an increase of 67 percent from the same period in 2016.
The figure included 168 bomb threats made against Jewish community centers and other organizations. In March, a U.S.-Israeli teen, accused of making most of the threats, was arrested in Israel.
“The bomb threats were an incredibly traumatic event for Jews across the country,” said Aryeh Tuchman, associate director of ADL’s center on extremism.
Among the incidents recorded by ADL were 703 incidents of harassment, 584 instances of vandalism, and 12 physical assaults.
States with the largest Jewish populations reported the highest number of anti-Semitic incidents. New York state led with a total of 267 incidents, followed by California with 197 incidents.
But not everything recorded by ADL was a hate crime, Tuchman said.
Levin said, “The prominence of anti-Semitic incidents in big cities is attributable to multiple factors far beyond the actions of a couple of offenders.”
Anti-Muslim hate crimes
There were 195 anti-Muslim hate crimes through the first nine months of 2017, a 20 percent increase from the same period in 2016, according to the rights group Council on American-Islamic Relations.
California led the nation with 73 incidents, followed by New York with 20 hate crimes, Florida with 11 incidents and Texas with nine hate incidents, according to CAIR. All four states have large Muslim populations.
Zainab Arain, research and advocacy coordinator for CAIR, attributed the relatively large number of incidents recorded in California and New York to the group’s large footprint and advocacy in those states.
“There is a likelihood of cases being reported more frequently” in California and New York, Arain said.
Property damage and physical assault were the most common hate crimes committed against Muslims.
The FBI reported in November that hate crimes against Muslims rose by nearly 20 percent in 2016 after jumping 67 percent in 2015.
Attacks against Muslims tend to be more violent than those against Jews, Levin said. That is partly because Muslims are “more identifiable when in religious attire and have a much higher degree of prejudice directed towards them,” he said.
In April, for example, a hijab-wearing woman was assaulted by a white man in downtown Los Angeles. A suspect was arrested.
In August, a Somali-American mosque was bombed in Bloomington, Minnesota. No one was hurt.