(November 11, 2018) The FBI just released its 2017 report on hate crimes that demonstrates the urgency of combating hate and bigotry—and of improving law enforcement’s reporting of and responding to an unprecedented surge in bigotry-based crime through education and intercultural engagement.

The year 2017, according to the report, was the third consecutive year of an increase in hate crimes. The FBI figures show an increase of 17% in 2017 over the previous year, the second-highest increase since the FBI began reporting these figures.  Religion-based hate crimes rose by 23%, including a 37% increase in anti-Jewish hate crimes and a 243% rise in hate crimes against Sikhs. Hate crimes against Arab Americans rose 100%. Curiously, however, the FBI figures show an 11% decline in hate crimes against Muslims.

That last figure directly contradicts CAIR’s finding of a 15% increase in anti-Muslim hate crimes. And there are plenty of other reasons to hold that the FBI’s statistics—already ominous enough– in fact seriously underreport the prevalence of hate crimes. Some notorious hate crimes don’t show up in the FBI report at all, including the murder of two Indian Americans in Olathe, Kansas, the continuing vandalism of a mosque in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, a mosque bombing in Bloomington, Minnesota, the killing of a young woman at the ultra-right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, and the murder of two people trying to defend two passengers on a train assailed by a man yelling anti-Muslim and racist slurs in Portland, Oregon. In the first four of these incidents, the jurisdictions involved either reported to the FBI that no hate crimes happened in their communities in 2017, or they did not participate in reporting at all, and in the last, the incident appeared in a state report but not in the figures submitted to the FBI. In fact, nearly 100 jurisdictions with populations over 100,000 reported no hate crimes at all—a flatly unbelievable claim. Clearly, as Madihha Ahussain, Special Counsel for Anti-Muslim Bigotry for Muslim Advocates, comments, “There is a pandemic of either non-reporting or underreporting by jurisdictions.”

Reports by other sources, including the CAIR report referenced above, underline the severity of the problem. The Bureau of Justice Statistics reported that in 2017 Americans experienced an average of 250,000 hate crimes per year from 2004-2015—far higher than the figures given by the FBI. The Anti-Defamation League has reported a 57% increase in anti-Semitic incidents in 2017, suggesting that hate crimes against Jews increased by more than the 37% reported by the FBI.

A recent California state audit of hate crime reporting found that 75% of law enforcement agencies failed to recognize some hate crimes—and California is well ahead of many other states in this area. Congress needs to pass legislation tying Federal funding for local law enforcement agencies to full and accurate reporting on hate crimes. And these agencies need training to fulfill this responsibility. ING CEO Maha Elgenaidi, an adviser to the California’s Police Officer Standards and Training (POST) agency, insists, “The surge in hate crimes and the failure of many jurisdictions to recognize and respond to them show unmistakably the need for law enforcement training on recognizing and reporting hate crimes.”

What is beyond doubt is that hate crimes are surging in the U.S. That makes ING’s mission of promoting interreligious and intercultural understanding all the more urgent. Education about and face-to-face interaction with Americans of diverse faiths and cultures, as ING provides, has been repeatedly shown to be the most effective way to dispel prejudice:

  • A 2015 Brookings Institute poll found that 65% of Americans who did not know any Muslims had unfavorable views of them, but that only 42% of those who knew a Muslim somewhat well and only 26% of those who knew at least one Muslim well viewed Muslims unfavorably.
  • A 2015 study by UC Berkeley and Stanford researchers found that a 10-minute conversation with a transgender person or a supporter of transgender persons sufficed to change attitudes toward transgender people and that this effect remained even three months after the conversation.
  • ING’s surveys of attitudes towards Muslims before and after an ING presentation show that ING presentations improve these attitudes; for instance, after a presentation, the percentage of those believing that Muslims are prone to violence falls by 50%, and the percentage believing that Muslim Americans are insular and foreign drops by almost 75%.

In the current situation of surging bigotry, our mission is more crucial than ever. As our Content Manager Ameena Jandali says, “The surge in hate crimes and bigotry calls for a yet greater surge in our efforts to educate.” We pledge to double down on our mission of promoting intercultural and interreligious understanding, and we invite you to join us in supporting our work.